What does "diversity" mean to you?
As our environment changes, so does the diversity of our workforce in terms of race, creed and color, certainly, but in other ways as well: various personalities, the way we think, our functions within an organization, and even age, gender and education.
No one wants a direct clone of ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable we might be with change—and the more different we are, the richer the ideas that surface through collaboration. Creativity and innovation increase as the result of positively leveraging diversity in the workforce.
Learning to deal with diversity can’t be learned from a company manual or CPE course. For young CPAs, learning to deal with diversity is important on many levels. As you look around the office, the reality is that there are going to be people who come from many different walks of life, whose cultures, outlooks, and attitudes may not be the same as yours.
Here are three examples of diversity situations with suggested solutions:
Example #1: "I Have Religious Rights"
We all must respect each other’s religious rights. For example, if one of your co-workers or clients happens to be Jewish and takes off a day for the High Holy days, you must be open-minded, respectful and cope with that person’s absence for a few days. Solid communications with co-workers and clients helps ensure that any important matter is not sacrificed due to someone being out of the office.
Sure, you could turn this around and suggest this person work Christmas Day, but that isn’t very realistic in today’s workplace. On the other hand, if your employer strongly objects to a Jewish worker taking off for Yom Kippur, an African-American approved to not work on Kwanzaa, or a Muslim prohibited from observing Ramadan, there is obviously a much larger problem.
Example #2: “My Opinion is the Only One That Matters.”
Ask one person his opinion and you’ll get one answer … ask a roomful of people their opinions and you’ll get more than you ever wanted.
Just as in accounting where there are multiple ways to get to the same solution, our workplaces are full of people with differing opinions on how to go about solving a client matter, developing new business, and a host of other activities. Yet, diversity can be used as a stepping-stone to actually improve your business because it gives you tremendous insight. In a well-rounded workplace, you have many different people who bring many different skills and ideas to the table. These qualities, combined with the range of experiences, create a variety of solutions.
The key is to listen to everyone’s opinion. No one likes to be excluded from the conversation and we all want to be a part of the solution. This starts at the top. You must build on the importance of respecting varying opinions and use it for growth, from the office of the CEO on down to the most basic levels.
Example #3: "I Don't Want to Work With Her"
At some point, the tables will turn on diversity in which a co-worker and even a client states he or she doesn’t want to work with someone at the company. Unfortunately, prejudice takes many forms; the larger question is “What would you do” to save a client relationship and/or create harmony in the workplace?
In most cases, getting both parties together in an unthreatening environment can be beneficial. There has to be some reason as to why there is a problem. Although it seems as if this could never happen, a race-related prejudice is, of course, very serious. You may well want to call in Human Resources or even legal council.
On the other hand, if the prejudice is based on a personality conflict or differences in how to get the job done, then this can be solved through discussion and mediation by managers or supervisors. Often, it’s better to get any grievance out on the table before it escalates to something beyond your control. Talk through the matter and try to resolve it.
Diversity is not the exception; it’s the norm. You must not get caught up in your different beliefs and backgrounds, but rather, strive to be open minded and tolerant. Listen to what others have to say and adapt to those around you … you will be closer to being well-rounded and successful.