What is the first thing you think about when you hear the word diversity? For many, the answer is differences in race, ethnicity or gender. For some, it elicits notions of quotas or affirmative action. The reality is that people are different, varying in gender, culture, race, social, physical and psychological characteristics. These differences may cause either negative or positive reactions, depending on individual perspectives and prejudices. In the work
place this can cause positive influences as diversity is a source of creativity and innovation. In other cases, diversity can be the source of misunderstanding, suspicion and workplace conflict affecting performance.
There are primary and secondary characteristics of diversity. The primary characteristics are age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, and physical ability. Secondary characteristics can either be acquired or changed in life, they affect an individual’s view of the world and how others view them. Examples are differences in housing status, marital status, and belief systems. A person’s religion, native language, socio-economic status, educational and work background add dimensions of differentiation not only to the person but also to how others view them.
Within this framework, The Chief of Naval Operations Sailing Directions state that “Diversity is not founded on statistics, percentages, or quotas. Diversity is about achieving peak performance. Our force will draw upon the widest possible set of talents and backgrounds to maximize our warfighting capability, adapt to address new threats and challenges, and take advantage of new opportunities. The unique personal characteristics and skills of each Sailor and Civilian will continue to add value to our Navy. Our efforts to attain and sustain a force of diverse talent and experience will be an intrinsic part of recruiting, developing, retaining and employing our people.”
Why is diversity important?
Diversity in the workplace:
• Encourages new ideas and perspectives
• Allows us to harness the strength provided by the combined talents and perspectives of all Officers, Sailors, and Civilians
• Ensures fairness within the organization
• Respects differences and makes them work
• Allows us to harness the strength provided by the combined talents and perspectives of all employees
• Creates a more productive, inclusive environment. A diverse workplace is a reflection of our changing world. It requires us to have cultural competence.
According to Terry L. Cross author of Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care, Volume I, there are five essential elements which contribute to an organization’s ability to become more culturally competent. The culturally competent system would:
• Value diversity
• Have the capacity for cultural self-assessment
• Be conscious of the dynamics inherent when cultures interact
• Have institutionalized culture knowledge
• Have developed adaptations to service delivery reflecting an understanding of cultural diversity
Understanding cultural competence starts with individuals. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures, and work with varying cultural beliefs and schedules.
By Beth Schudel, Supply Corps Diversity Program Manager