By Kathy Lechman, Leader of Diversity Development, Ohio State University Extension
Diversity has become a very talked about issue and for some it may be considered a politically correct “buzzword”, reality is that diversity is among us on a constant basis and a well-prepared leader understands this and uses the diversity of staff as an advantage and as a way to further the goals of the organization. Ohio State University (OSU) Extension uses the following definition of diversity: “Differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practices, and other human differences (OSU Extension Strategic Plan for Diversity)”. As this definition demonstrates, there is more to diversity than racial, ethnic, or cultural characteristics. These aspects of diversity are important but when looking at the workforce there are many other dimensions to consider. We cannot deny that our race, ethnicity, gender, or religion influences our personality but consideration should be given to the possibility that other factors also contribute to our personalities. With the increasing diversity of the workforce, leaders in organizations must work with people who are not only racially, ethnically and culturally different but who also bring with them diversity in communication styles, conflict management styles, and personality types. “Diversity is about leadership’s capacity to influence people to WILLINGLY work toward company objectives…It is valuing differences no matter how big or small they may seem (Burrs, Linda. 2002. Diversity - It’s More than Just a Notion. www.step-up-tosuccess.org)”. Examining aspects of diversity that move away from focusing on the observable and or physical differences provides an opportunity to highlight the subtle and often hidden aspects of diversity that exist among people. A variety of assessment instruments exist, including: Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, Jung’s communication styles Assessment, Spectrum Color personality types, Coachman’s conflict management styles, the Enneagram, and many others.
Benefits of Celebrating Hidden Diversity
All of these assessments provide useful information on how people prefer to operate and relate. These assessments also offer additional dimensions of diversity that should be considered by supervisors, and managers when establishing work groups, task forces, and or committees. A variety of personality styles, communication, and thinking styles enrich any group and can actually increase productivity and creativity. Knowing styles and preferences of co-workers is important but it is also important to know our own preferred style. As leaders, we need to be able to tap into the strengths of our employees as well as our own. “When people are encouraged to work in their areas of strength, they are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay with the company or organization (Burrs, Linda. 2002. Diversity-It’s More than Just a Notion. www.step-up-tosuccess.org)”. Demonstrating appreciation for these dimensions of diversity is also setting the tone for a healthy and accepting work environment where people can excel. As mentioned earlier, culture, race, ethnicity, and religion along with a myriad of other factors are important aspects of diversity and just like we need to be wary of racial and ethnic stereotypes, we need to be cautious not to stereotype or pigeon hole personality types. For example, a person who is an Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling, Judging (ESFJ) on the Myers/Briggs will not always be the leader of a group or be the first to speak at meetings. Just like an Introvert, Intuitor, Feeling, Perceiver (INFP) is perfectly capable of leading and taking charge of a large group and making decisions quickly.