Diversity Redefined – Moving Well Beyond Race and Ethnicity

Diversity, as an integral part of today’s lexicon, is an old conversation. Typically, it refers to race and ethnicity and, in some communities, to gender, age and cultural differences as well. However, the diversity of this century needs to be expanded to include the micro characteristics of the individuals of a society not just the macro categories of yesteryear.

The modern take on diversity should encompass more than the umbrella descriptors that classify groups of people based on similarities; it should go beyond assigning broad labels derived from the preordained categories of traditional diversity. Today’s diversity should speak to individuality, for it is the individual that makes up the grassroots foundation of a society and organized groups, regardless of size. Instead, we should be encouraging people to recognize, explore, and cultivate their individual qualities and talents and to celebrate their unique differences.

And why does this matter? A prime example is the role individuality plays in the business community. Essentially, individuality is critical to diverse thinking which, in turn, fosters the highly prized payoff of faster and more creative problem solving. This is one of the widely touted benefits of having and sustaining a diverse workforce. This is the edge corporate America needs to remain competitive in our global economy.

So how do we counter the spreading blight that might be termed “human massification” – the devaluation of individuality – and where do we start? Admittedly, recognizing and developing one’s unique qualities and individual talents, one’s sense of self, can and should start in the home. However, we also should consider a paradigm shift in the educational arena, given its wider and deeper sphere of influence.

As things stand, concern over costs and accountability in education has led to a decline in or the total elimination of music and art in school curricular. This deficit is compounded by the current teaching-to-test thrust taking place in the classroom, further discouraging the cultivation of individual talents and unique capabilities.

Alternatively, consider instituting educational workshops designed to guide students of all ages through a process of greater self awareness, that is, greater attention to their individual strengths, talents, and cognitive learning patterns. Add to this an understanding of personal chemistry and personality differences; different leadership styles and how to gauge one’s own proclivity in this regard; and how to hone personal communication skills to communicate more effectively. For, the greater one’s personal insight, the more grounded that person is likely to be. He or she also will be better able to establish an edge and adapt to, as well as excel in, our rapidly changing and highly competitive environment.

Local organizations and church groups share in this responsibility and should take up the gauntlet, given their wide, shared and embedded spheres of influence in their respective communities. They, and the community at large, stand to benefit from helping to re-empower the locals with a heightened sense of personal worth and ultimately a re-energized entrepreneurial spirit.

In effect, we would all benefit if there is a concerted and unified effort to bolster self-awareness, value individual differences, and foster the teamwork needed to succeed in our diverse and complex society.

Let us all work together to change how we think about diversity. Let’s work towards expanding the definition to include and celebrate individuality – in essence, diversity of the people, by the people and for the people. This enhanced view of diversity will help to change the quality and tenor of our increasingly cookie-cutter society and reverse the growing sense of personal alienation.

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