When the topic of diversity comes up, what comes to mind, most often, are demographic elements such as; race, gender, and age. These elements are, of course, extremely important and have very significant impact on our lives, both collectively and individually. However, to fully understand diversity, we need to recognize and appreciate a myriad of additional elements on the diversity spectrum and the dynamics that they all have in common.
Some of our differences (or shared similarities) relate to visual cues, things we can see that drive our assumptions about another person. We often look for visual cues that indicate demographic elements such as; race, gender, and age. However, there are many more elements of diversity that are not easily visible. A person’s education, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, political leanings, sexual orientation, gender identity, personality, wealth, skills, and talents, among other elements are often less obvious. These elements may be less visible but are often no less important to how the person views themselves and how we view them.
While working for a manufacturing company, one of the most significant elements of diversity I noticed was the “hourly or exempt” employee designation. Were you paid by the hour, or were you “exempt” from clocking in and out and paid an annual salary? Depending on which you were, it had a major impact not only on how you were paid but also how you were seen by others and how you may see yourself.
The similarities we have with others often group us with some and differentiate us from others. This sometimes is by choice; I may choose to be a member of one political party, to get my degree from a certain school, or to belong to a certain house of worship. Or it may be the chance of birth or where I grew up, family history, or personal experience that associates me with some and differentiates me from others.
Some of the characteristics that I share or that differentiate me from others, whether chosen or not, may be very important to how I see and define myself. Other personal characteristics may be less important to how I see myself but, they may be very important to how others see me and may also have great impact on how I experience life.
Perhaps the most interesting, and challenging aspect of the diversity spectrum, is the fact that some of the characteristics that we share with others come with certain advantages, while other characteristics come with disadvantages.
A personal example is that I am a person with an able body. However, being able-bodied, is not something I consciously chose or usually consider when I reflect on how I define myself. This is something I take for granted. It just hasn’t been a characteristic that I have had to pay attention to. I have not had to face the barriers and challenges that those less able-bodied have had to deal with. Being able-bodied gives me advantages that I am not normally conscious of having. However, those who are not fully able-bodied are very conscious of the barriers they face and of my advantage in not having to. Not having to face the barriers others do is a privilege, but it is a privilege I am often unaware of having.
Likewise, being white is not something that I had been all that conscious of historically or given much thought to. Being white has not presented me with any significant barriers or disadvantages in our society. I have been able to take being white for granted. I never felt that my skin color might be a barrier to others accepting, trusting, or treating me with respect. That has been an advantage that I had not noticed nor had to consider.
Series 6 of 8