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Understanding D"i"versity

The "me" generation is over. A new philosophy on work and life has emerged. Diversity celebrates the understanding that people have similarities and differences. Differences do not just encompass race, color and ethnic backgrounds. Rather, the important difference we must understand is that all individuals possess separate thoughts and motivation. No longer can people be lumped into categories. There is no single category that you or I fit into completely.

So why all the excitement about diversity, isn't this just EEO? The simple answer is NO! Equal Employment Opportunity is a law that protects all people from discrimination. Diversity is not a law; it is fundamental concept. Recognizing that each other is different not only as a person, but even in what type of work we do, is the most important tenant of diversity. For example, does a forecaster really understand what it is an electronics technician does and vice versa? We may have preconceived ideas, and we can all read position descriptions, but do we really understand what it is that person does? This is what diversity is all about, simply trying to understand our differences.

While diversity acknowledges the differences between individuals, it can also be an important tool in building teamwork among ourselves. If we can recognize and understand each individual, we might realize that each person has strengths that can be used to accomplish our mission. Working together we can accomplish far more than as individuals.

In building teamwork, managers can no longer afford a one size fits all theory of management. Certainly, the days of the dominant, "because I say so," manager are numbered. Working with office teams and in partnership with unions, allows managers to build on the strengths of their diverse staffs. Including diverse concerns and recommendations helps management make better decisions and build a cohesive team unit.

Understanding diversity not only helps us with our co-workers, but also helps with our customers. To provide the best services, we must know and acknowledge the diversity of our customers as well. If we simply set policies on what we believe our customers want, then we do not recognize diversity. The best way that any business interacts with their customers is to ask them what they want. When we ask customers and co-workers what it is they really want and need, only then do we gain an understanding of their diversity.

Communication. That is the key. Just sitting down and speaking with people. We're not talking forecast coordination, office administration or meteorology; we're talking about just getting to know people. We've all got to be like the bartender who listens to all his customers. To find out who a person is and what their strengths are, we have to be good listeners and communicators. In communicating with people, you're likely to find that there is more to look at than just that person's outward appearance. In fact, you may find many things that are very similar. This is where good teamwork may result.

To put forth the concept of diversity, there are national and regional action plans, conferences, and even the inclusion of a diversity element in your manager's performance plans. These are good tools for initiating the idea, but the ultimate success in understanding diversity lies with each individual employee. The concept of diversity in the workplace is not just a management concern; it should be the concern of everyone.

Utilizing and understanding diversity in the workplace just makes good sense. To gain the full appreciation of everyone you work with, you've got to understand them as a person and what role they perform day in and day out. Don't hesitate to learn about someone else's position. A forecaster should know a little about what an electronic technician does, and vice versa. Such information builds upon the diversity of the individuals and can develop into a true team effort.

A few thoughts on understanding diversity have been presented. You may not agree with these thoughts or this concept of diversity. This is however, what makes each of us different. If we can "agree to disagree," but still respect each other's right to an opinion then we have shown our ability to understand diversity. If we come to fisticuffs over an agreement, we'll definitely find at least one similarity, everyone bleeds the same color. Part of understanding diversity is putting aside our egos, so that the "I" is not so overpowering. Working together "we" can overcome any problem that confronts us.