Due to our very nature as humans, we tend to negate whoever is different from us. We want everyone to be like us. And as such, we impliedly develop bias towards anyone who seems different from us, or one who does things differently. Consequently, we prejudge, categorize, and even at times discriminate those who are different. In such incidents, we unconsciously fight the fear of the unknown with intent to protect ourselves, only to hurt others.
Therefore, the most impactful root cause of diversity-related challenges is fear. Let me explain.
Imagine you meet someone for the first time and build rapport, a.k.a. connect to them through what you have in common, there is no fear. You open up to them, and even eventually build trust. You share personal stories/experiences and you become excited to find someone who is like you in one way or another. Thus, there is respect especially if you have some for yourself. For the most part, the more you discover the commonalities you have with the other person, the more you want to be around them, and learn more about them: with the disguised hope that you will discover more things you have in common.
Let’s turn the tables around and imagine that you meet someone and they come off as very different from you, you will probably start searching for whatever is wrong with them. If you find nothing you can define as wrong with them you will most likely make up one. You will start negating them because you don’t know them. You will start blocking them because of the fear of the unknown: and at that point you are literally protecting yourself.
The question is, what do you do if you work with so many people who are different from you? What if you are the one who is different from everyone else? What if what makes you different is your religion, skin color, or social background? What would you do to be an active and positive member of the team if they immediately block you off? What do you think management could do to reduce this implied fear and the negative related consequences?
As an expert in the psychology of diversity and unconscious bias, with 7 years working with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, I have learned from other experts and my experiences that one of the most durable strategies that seem to work in any workplace setting is for management to consistently educate employees about the mission of the organization, goals, and strategies. Furthermore, they should incessantly remind employees about the one thing that they have in common: and that is achieving the organization’s set goals within its mission. This commonality should be explained in such a way that specifically illustrates the related benefits if everyone is onboard. Consequently, staff members will be inspired to focus on what they have in common and then use what’s different about them to develop diverse tools to achieve this common goal in the most efficient and effective way.