We live in a complex, global world where intercultural interaction is a necessity. Unless we are extremely sheltered, we find diversity all around us in many forms, every day.
If we work in a multi-national company, particularly in a country other than the one we were born or raised in, then we are no stranger to cultures very different from our own. And sometimes, we are the ones who provide the diversity in an otherwise fairly homogenous team.
There are always new and positive things we can learn from others in each situation in which we find ourselves; and how better to learn new things than in a team that works together day after day. It can certainly be said that a diverse team will be a stronger, more adaptable team.
But there are dangers in a constant call for Diversity as it is commonly envisioned. One of the dangers is that it is viewed as an end in itself. The next article in this series deals with that danger.
Another danger is that it actually masks the desire to remain stubbornly unchanged in the face of what may be better alternatives to specific examples of cultural expression. A call for Diversity often means, "there should be more people like me on this team, and I have nothing to learn from anyone else."
The problem is that we often cling too hard to false notions of "culture". On the one hand, our notion of culture is too broad. This is where national or racial stereotypes come in. We can all think of stereotypes applied to large groups of people, and we are all guilty of leaning on them when dealing with people from those groups. But the truth is far more nuanced.
On the other hand, our notion of culture is far too narrow. We may self-identify, or pigeon-hole others, as part of what is actually a very narrow sub-culture; and we do this based on nothing more than a single preference or activity, a mode of appearance (perhaps an earmark, literally), a life-style, a choice of automobile, a hobby, etc. We may self-identify with others "just like us" in this way, because it means we can remain within our comfort zone. We may pigeon-hole others in this way, because, as with stereotypes, it's easy. But the truth is a little more complicated.
Culture, or certain expressions of culture, can be a very precious thing, both to cultivate in ourselves and to appreciate in others. But, many of the things we stubbornly latch onto, or fear in others, are not worthy of the name. In many cases they are elements of stereotypes or earmarks of a sub-culture, and we simply use them as bricks in the walls we erect around ourselves or others. We may use them either defensively or offensively.
Some of these things do need to be shed at the door to our workplaces; indeed, certain "corporate cultures" may dictate that. In any case, leaving certain things at the door may be necessary in order to build a team that works effectively together towards its goals. But that doesn’t mean that the suppression of culture, or the building of a mono-culture, is any way necessary or desirable. On the contrary, true diversity within teams is to be celebrated.
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