On Heritage Day this 24 September, we as South Africans celebrate our culture and diversity as a nation. We all enjoy variety, because it brings exciting surprises and is also a key ingredient of creativity. The same goes for diversity in the workplace.
Whilst workplace diversity in South Africa is mandated by law, many businesses have adopted a largely compliance-driven approach. However, there are several other benefits to having a diverse workforce – not just meeting the legal requirements to keep the doors open. It allows self-awareness, empathy, innovation and creativity to flourish. Knowing who we are as individuals, and how our views converge with others, can foster healthier relationships and compassion, especially when we find common ground with others who appear at first to be completely different from us.
Conflict may arise in the work environment because of different personality types. Those of us who are procrastinators may wait until the last moment to get reports done, driving more conscientious, deadline-driven colleagues to distraction. Extroverts may dominate discussions in meetings, leaving the introverts’ ideas to go unsaid. Those who are more open to new experiences may jump on novel ideas, while more risk-averse types will reflexively shut them down.
How can we get all these differences to add up to a thriving workplace? It’s in working well together that the magic happens – and that means inclusivity. It’s up to each one of us to make it work.
Celebrate the differences
We are not all the same – and that’s a great thing. Regardless of cultural backgrounds, every one of us brings a unique personality and life experience, and each one of us has a story to tell. Take time to get to know the people around you. Enjoy the differences that make us individuals and allow us to contribute something special to a team.
Recognise the similarities
It sounds clichéd, but despite all our differences, there are some universal similarities that connect us. We all long for the same things; security, health, love, a sense of belonging. We all want to be appreciated and respected. So, keep this in mind when differences seem like vast chasms; being your best self is about build a bridge and coming together.
Go above and beyond
As the saying goes; it’s the little things that count. Support and help each other, listen when someone needs to vent, be kind, chat, share a joke, make someone a cup of coffee, recognise achievements. By making an effort to care without expecting anything in return, you create an important bond with your co-workers. When you have those connections, you’re more likely to make room for each other’s unique approaches.
Make manners matter
It may sound old-fashioned, but manners really do matter. Sure, there may be cultural differences in how everyone perceives being polite or impolite, but ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘I appreciate you’, works for everyone. It can also go beyond that: make space at the table for a newcomer to sit down, look at someone when they talk to you, greet people you pass in the corridor, walk with a colleague to a meeting. When chatting to your friends, invite others to join you, give everyone a chance to contribute. These basic manners add up to help people feel seen, included and valued.
Reflect on your conclusions
In some situations, we tend to jump to conclusions. When interacting with our colleagues, whilst one person may feel that sugar-coating is dishonest and prefers to be direct, another person could perceive that ‘directness’ as being rude or hostile. It is therefore important to work on tailoring your communications to match the people with whom you are communicating.
Remember that you can call your employee wellness programme for support, counselling and conflict resolution.
Working with others who are different from us may not always be easy, but it certainly is interesting, and that makes it worth the effort to create better bonds. After all, variety is the spice of life!
- Fast Company & Inc
- McKinsey & Company
- Production Management Institute (PMI) of Southern Africa