The first things that come to one’s mind when thinking of diversity are those aspects protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These traditional diversity components include race, skin color, religion, sex, and national origin. Other laws and amendments have also specified age, gender, and sexual orientation as protected diversity classes. Usually, these components are outwardly visible, which makes it easier to identify individuals with these diverse and unique characteristics.
What many people don’t realize is that diversity encompasses much more than externally visible differences. Diversity can be defined as all the ways that people are unique. These additional differences comprise one’s personality, innate characteristics, environmental conditions, and organizational elements.
Every individual has a unique personality that comprises one component of what makes him or her diverse. Personality elements include temperament, activity level, persistence, tolerance, introversion/extroversion, individualism, avoidance/confrontation, and mood. All of these diverse personality factors greatly influence how teams interact with one another and how effective teams can be at developing emotional intelligence necessary to be successful.
Innate & Unchangeable Factors
The unchangeable factors of diversity are those external characteristics that people tend to initially associate with diversity such as age, race, ethnicity, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. It is important to distinguish between some of these factors, as they are often inaccurately combined and interchanged.
- Race is a socially constructed distinction based on one’s ancestry and heritage; ethnicity is a grouping based on shared cultural beliefs and traditions, and national origin is a diverse classification based on location of birth or upbringing.
- Gender refers to the behavioral/psychological characteristics and role expectations typically defined as male, female, or intergender; however, sex refers to the anatomical and physiological differences among individuals.
The third category of diversity components includes those characteristics that are environmental. These include one’s geographic location, parental or marital status, income level, habits or activities, religious affiliation, and educational background. This category also includes physical appearance, which is somewhat inborn, but is readily changeable if a person so desires.
The last type of diversity stems from organizational factors relating to the company in which one works. Although many don’t see these factors as traditional forms of diversity, they are unique differences that greatly influence one’s experiences and unique contributions. These factors include job title, job level or classification, seniority status, managerial status, department affiliation, work context or conditions, and physical work location.
Overcoming the Negative Connotations
Many people view diversity as a burden rather than a benefit because of the many legal stipulations that regulate and complicate behaviors toward individuals exhibiting certain diverse characteristics. However, when legal requirements are set aside, project teams can begin to see and appreciate the benefits of diversity. There are a number of methods project managers can use to increase diversity awareness in team members, but the three main ways to foster this include:
- Regularly setting aside time for individual team members to reflect on their understanding of and feelings toward diversity, especially when diversity-related team conflicts occur, and subsequently identifying potentially biases inhibiting acceptance and understanding of diverse team members.
- Frequently communicating with team members about diversity-related topics and observations to reduce the uncertainty and anxiety commonly felt when interacting with a diverse group of individuals.
- Honestly identifying the differences observed in the team’s relations and devoting time to resolve questions or concerns regularly experienced in highly diversified teams.
There are many different types of diversity, and each is equally important in the development and success of project teams. For more information on the types of diversity discussed in this article, please refer to the book Managing Diversity: A Complete Desk Reference and Planning Guide by Gardenswartz and Rowe.