By STEVE DICE
Director, Erie Metroparks; Member, Leadership Erie County Class of 2010
In the beginning, the perception of diversity was differences people could see. For example, race. Black and white and red and yellow, as the old politically incorrect phrase used to say. Shape of eyes and nose. Color of hair. The triggers for recognition judgment and stereotype were facial features. There was little consideration for any value of the difference. Diversity was only skin deep. But diversity isn't black and white.
As the forms of visual technology start out in black and white then slowly evolve into as color as technology progresses, the perception of diversity evolved as well. As individuals strived to understand we are who we are based upon where we were when, more diverse characteristics began to be defined. According to the Univerity of Tennessee Libraries Diversity Committee, "Examples of these characteristics are: age; cognitive style; culture; disability (mental, learning, physical); economic background; education; ethnicity; gender identity; geographic background; language(s) spoken; marital/partnered status; physical appearance; political affiliation; race; religious beliefs; sexual orientation"
So, an understanding began to grow and with it a realization people of the same race can be diverse as well. For example, a Hispanic might be Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist or Agnostic. How people of diverse faith approach life with different values and different priorities has more to do with their behavior than those features that are only skin deep.
You are unique, just like everyone else.
So just when you thought you were part of a group with similarities, you discover there is no one else just like you. Physical features are the obvious; personality, faith, economic background and more are not so obvious. Yet these not-so-obvious diverse characteristics are what make each individual unique. They can easily be benefits an individual can bring to a personal or professional group. They can just as easily get in the way of collaboration, cooperation and mutual benefit.
Remember the saying, "don't judge the book by its cover?"
There can be an even deeper hidden dimension to diversity. I once participated in an icebreaker at a seminar. About 15 participants stood on a tarp and were blindfolded. They were asked to turn the tarp over without getting off the tarp. Some had a lot of fun, but a couple of individuals were noticeably very uncomfortable. Some participants may have thought these two were "sticks in the mud," but what if there was something there that couldn't be seen?
We often jump to a conclusion when a member of the group does not participate or perform as needed or expected. They are judged incompetent or uncooperative or pessimistic. Sometimes hidden dimensions of diversity are misread.
There is profit in diversity.
The greatest understanding of the full spectrum of diversity is the benefit of valuing the characteristics and beliefs of those who demonstrate a wide range of characteristics.
In our contemporary lives with diverse communities, economies and families it is important to understand input and decision made by diverse groups are increasingly more effective than those bade by a "monochrome" group. Each person must be treated with respect and valued as an individual.
It takes many diverse talents to build a house -- excavator, mason, plumber, carpenter, electrician, painter, architect. Isn't it amazing a house costing a few hundred thousand dollars involves all of this diverse talent. One wonders how diverse the group was that developed the "New Coke" in 1985.
At your workplace, does everyone understand the true depths of diversity? Does everyone value diversity of input? Do decisions reflect a commitment to diversity? Are your profits and successes as high as they can be?
In your personal life are you enjoying the pleasures of a diverse group? Jay Leno is a funny guy. The audience laughs. If there was a party and everyone there was a Jay Leno would everyone laugh? Would the jokes be funny?
It is important to understand diversity in our professional and personal lives ...yes. But it is more important to understand the benefits of diversity in our professional and personal lives.