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Increasing Diversity Awareness in Project Teams

written by: N. Plowman • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/21/2013

The role of diversity in teams is significant; but many managers do not know how to increase diversity awareness among team members. This article identifies the three best ways to increase this level of awareness and discusses how to effectively implement it within a project team.

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    The Diverse Types of Diversity

    With the growing dependence on teams in the workplace and the effects of globalization, companies and managers are continually experiencing the difficulties of managing teams comprising highly diverse individuals. These diversities not only encompass race, religion, or national origin, but they include other broad types of diversity such as marital status, educational background, management experiences, and seniority.

    Since the accepted forms of diversity have substantially increased, leading to nearly every team experiencing some form of diversity, it is critical that project managers understand how to increase diversity awareness among team members. Diversity awareness is not only personally and professionally beneficial to individuals, but it enhances the likelihood that teams will experience the many benefits of diversity.

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    Effective Initiatives

    There are a number of ways project managers can increase team members’ awareness of and appreciation for diversity. The primary influence on individual awareness of diversity is one’s own feelings about diversity. Next, communication about different types of diversity and factors to consider when dealing with diverse team members is important. Finally, understanding the role of diversity in intergroup relations is critical to improve diversity awareness and appreciation within project teams.

    1. Identify Feelings about Diversity

    Before a project manager can expect team members to understand and appreciate diversity, it is critical that team members be given the opportunity and guidance to explore one’s feelings toward diversity. Providing regular sessions to discuss feelings about diversity can help team members identify personal barriers to acceptance and understanding that stem from life experiences and prior encounters with highly diverse situations or people. Furthermore, these discussions should be moderated to discuss potential ramifications associated with violating anti-discrimination or anti-harassment laws and company policies.

    2. Communication

    After team members are given the opportunity to fully explore individual feelings associated with diversity, project managers should implement informal and formal team communication standards to continually address common diversity-related issues observed in the workplace. First, it is important that team members become aware of how diversity manifests itself in teams. Next, project managers can survey team members on topics related to sense of space, time consciousness (relative or absolute), values and norms, and work habits and expectations. Once these results are evaluated, it is important to discuss these differences with the team to increase awareness of potential barriers to effective communication and positive team interactions.

    3. Interpersonal Relationships

    Earth Diversity The final way to foster diversity awareness and appreciation is to thoroughly discuss the differences that diversity makes in team member relations. Differences among team members’ personalities, background, culture, working conditions, and environment can greatly influence how team members interact with one another. Individuals typically have varying preferences toward conflict resolution and confrontation styles. Furthermore, the more diverse team members are, the more likely teams are to have individuals with differing cultural norms, expectations, beliefs, standards of excellence, and grooming/attire habits, which all influence how members interact and contribute to the overall team goal.

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    Characteristics of Effective Diversity Awareness Initiatives

    There are many ways a project manager can accomplish the diversity awareness initiatives listed in the previous section. However, in order for initiatives to be effective and influence team members’ appreciation and understanding of diversity, diversity initiatives must:

    • Be aligned with project goals, strategies, and future endeavors,
    • Have support and endorsement from upper-management,
    • Be meaningful in relation to team members’ life,
    • Be introduced in the context of the project team,
    • Remove the “Us vs. Them" mentality, and
    • Provide opportunities for meaningful contact with other diverse peers through integration, contextualization, and cooperative learning.
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    An Important Resource

    There are many different types of diversity present in project teams, and it is important for all team members to become aware of these forms of diversity and the importance of having a highly-diverse team. For more information on the types of diversity awareness initiatives and specific team exercises, please refer to the book Managing Diversity: A Complete Desk Reference and Planning Guide by Gardenswartz and Rowe.

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