As we celebrate and remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I want to share with you some insight I received from an author and diversity expert I once interviewed.
R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. explained to me me that many people believe that a workplace has become diverse when people of color or women are present at different organizational levels. This, he said, was not really diversity, but "representation."
He explained that true diversity in the workplace meant there was a real melding and understanding and appreciation of individual differences. Those differences, he pointed out, were viewed as a way to strengthen the organization and expand the horizons of the company and the individual, not just as a way to satisfy the requirements of a diversity program.
In that conversation, we also talked about the diversity barriers that still exist in the workplace, and he noted how critical it was that each person recognize that his or her commitment to diversity was just as important -- if not more important -- than any formal effort set up by an employer.
Until that happened, he said, diversity would continue to be "someone else’s problem.”
He said each person should ask:
· Do I see discussions about alternate ways of doing things as a waste of time?
· Do I respond negatively when someone says, “I think I have a better idea?”
· Do I wince when others dress or groom themselves differently than I find attractive?
· Does change make me uncomfortable?
Answering "yes" to any of these questions, he said, indicated that you may be cutting off opportunities for personal growth by excluding diversity before you have an opportunity to evaluate it objectively.
On today, of all days, maybe it's time we each took a hard look at how we behave in the workplace and make sure we are keeping King's dream alive.