Tolerance in the Workplace

The word “diversity” can have a bad reputation sometimes, but it really shouldn’t. Part of the problem might come from people who aren’t quite sure what the word means or fear that another group gaining positive recognition means that they have to lose something. Good offices will do their level best to make sure that diversity is practiced as well as preached everywhere at all levels of the organization, from the mailroom to the office of the CEO.

Defining diversity

Diversity does not mean that anyone who isn’t white automatically “wins.” The word is often used to refer to ethnic and racial diversity, but it doesn’t have to mean that. It can refer to simply being supportive of people who come from a background that’s different than yours. Promoting diversity is basically acknowledging that certain groups have advantages that make getting certain jobs or reaching certain positions in life easier than people who don’t have the same kind of privileges and doing our best to mitigate that. Tolerance is a related value. Any workplace that attempts to have a diverse workforce must also have a tolerant one. We practice tolerance when we realize we don’t have to be exactly the same in order to respect each other. Think of it like a book of short stories. If every single story in the book told the exact same story from the exact same perspective, things would get boring fast. Diversity offers a way of providing new perspectives, and looking at things in a new way can only be helpful for most companies.

Again, diversity can be as simple as hiring someone from a poor, rural background to work in an office mostly populated by rich people who grew up in the city. It can also relate to things like gender and sexual orientation, as well as race or religion. There are multiple ways to attain a more diverse workplace. But it doesn’t matter who you hire if the underrepresented groups are going to be seen as somehow “cheating.” There are some occasions where, for example, an Asian woman working in the exact same job as a white man will been seen as somehow less qualified. Even her own coworkers may view her as inferior somehow. The term “token minority” can be used as insult in such situations. It’s a way of saying, “You’re here, but you don’t really belong here.”

Embracing differences

Sometimes people are scared of change because they’re scared they’ll accidentally offend someone from a group they don’t know much about. It’s an understandable fear, but it can’t be used as an excuse. The people who work in an office together must be able to communicate clearly and get along with each other. Office managers can drive home that point by requiring employees to watch a diversity training video. It’s even better if there’s time for the office to discuss the video for a few minutes after watching it. If we can’t push past our initial discomfort and do our level best see people as people rather than strange and unknowable symbols of Something Different, then we aren’t going to get far in either our careers or life in general.