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Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Part II: The Diversity Scale

We all come from different backgrounds and have had vastly different sets of experiences, and yet employees from every walk of life come together every day to collaborate and work toward the same goal of professional success. As a business leader, you probably already know that when you bring a diverse set of individuals together as a team, you bring in new ideas and perspectives as a result of combining different world views, cultures, nationalities, and experiences.

According to SurveyMonkey, “Thirty-eight percent of the 12,543 working Americans surveyed said that diversity and inclusion is a high priority for their company, both for business reasons, and—more importantly—for ethical ones. More and more companies have set diversity and inclusion related goals and committed to pursuing a more balanced workforce.”

Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion can be difficult qualities of a workplace culture to quantify. In this blog post, we’ll take a close look at the five levels of the diversity scale—discrimination, bias, tolerance, acceptance, and enthusiasm—and give you tips for cultivating a culture of acceptance and enthusiasm in your organization.

Read Part I of the series: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace Part I: Expectation vs. Reality

Level One: Discrimination

The standard definition of discrimination is, “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, sex, or religion.” When it comes to the workplace, discrimination is not only ignorant, it’s illegal.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, enforces laws that prohibit discrimination based on: age, disability, family status, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race and color, religion, and sex. This applies to activities such as: hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and all other terms and conditions of employment. Various states and cities add to this list of protected classes, including: political ideology, military status, union membership, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In order to avoid workplace discrimination, you need to know what’s specifically prohibited in your area.

Related Reading: 3 Key Employment Laws That You Need to Know

Level Two: Bias

Bias is any negative opinion about a group. Another term for this is prejudice, which is a preconceived, unreasoned, and unjustified negative attitude established before evaluating people on their merits. What separates discrimination from bias is overt action. Discrimination is treating people differently based on their group. Bias is a feeling or an attitude. That said, ultimately, bias as a predisposition can eventually come out as action—which would be discrimination. At the very least, bias certainly affects the decisions people make, often unreasonably so.

Level Three: Tolerance

When it comes to diversity in the workplace, there are two definitions of “tolerance”—one with a positive connotation, and one that’s perceived as negative. On the positive side, tolerance means adopting a fair and objective attitude toward beliefs and actions that differ from your own. It’s a freedom from bias and the resulting action of discrimination. This favorable view of tolerance is seen as being interested in others.

As we discussed in Part I of our blog series, tolerance can also be talked about in terms of enduring something. The connotation here is that the differences in people are negative—a burden that must be born, or an unpleasant aspect of life that you nevertheless have to deal with. Unfortunately, this is often how “tolerance” is used in diversity training. Even when it’s used correctly, this negative definition of tolerance is often how it can be interpreted.

The point is that differences aren’t to be tolerated, because they’re intrinsically neither good nor bad. They just ARE. You say po-TAY-to. I say po-TAH-to. We both know what we’re talking about. We just say it differently.

Level Four: Acceptance

We define acceptance as, “a favorable reception or approval.” Again, there are two interpretations of this concept. On the more favorable side, acceptance means that you’re open to what’s offered. You’re willing to perceive what others do as acceptable.

On the other side, we see an implication, once again, of having to deal with something negative. People accept their fate. They accept the consequences. They accept responsibility. In this interpretation, most of the time what people are accepting isn’t very favorable.

This grudging form of acceptance is not what you want your employees to take away from diversity training. It isn’t just about putting up with anyone who is different from you; it’s about dealing with people based on their merits. Anything else may be interesting, but it’s not relevant to the workplace. Personal performance on the job is relevant.

Level Five: Enthusiasm

The final level on the diversity scale is enthusiasm, or, “intense or eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.” In diversity training, enthusiasm is often held out as the desired end result. It’s not grudging tolerance; it’s not resigned acceptance—it’s an attitude that embraces and celebrates diversity.

Being enthusiastic about diversity also makes good business sense. Diverse teams have been found to perform better, resulting in higher profits. According to CultureAmp, “Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Additionally, those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.”

Key Takeaways from the Diversity Scale

There are a couple takeaways from this look at the diversity scale. The first is, you can’t be at the discrimination or bias levels. It’s illegal in most cases, and it’s ethically wrong in every case. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and judged on their own merits.

Next, your organization should expect to operate from the perspective of favorable acceptance, which means being open to the differences in others; it should strive to cultivate a culture of enthusiasm when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

Enhancing your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts through educational training and development will help set your organization up for success.

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Mandy Smith

Mandy Smith is Vice President of Training and Employee Development and is responsible for providing SWBC employees with learning and development opportunities which enable them to be more effi cient, eff ective, and engaged. In 2016, she was named a Learning! Champion High Performer by Enterprise Learning! Mandy is a member of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) and is active in the local chapter. She currently sits on the Chief Learning Officers Business Intelligence Board.

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