One in four Australians were born overseas 46 per cent have at least one parent who was born overseas
Nearly 20 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English at home
The year was 1994 and I was in my first job as a psychologist in a Government Department in a neighbourhood in Sydney where 100 languages are spoken. Due to the sensitive nature of our jobs it was decided that we needed to have an employee from almost all of the local nationalities so that the cultural nuances of our clients could be appropriately understood. Despite the diverse mix of employees, in terms of age, experience, gender, nationality, religion, professional expertise and personality, it was the most supportive environment I have ever worked in.
What exactly made this work environment so inclusive?
A supportive wise and calm leader
Strong commitment to the purpose of the organisation
Robust debate when solving complex cleint problems
Clear line of sight between everyone's work and impact on clients
Strict adherence to physical safety rules
Genuine interest in the cultures and beliefs of others
Why was inclusion critical? The nature of the work was stressful, emotionally confronting and there were legal and safety ramifications if we made incorrect decisions. We needed to respect each other’s opinions and perspectives, debate issues and ensure that when we made decisions they were in the best interests of our clients. In addition when the stakeholders complained (which they did often) we needed to support each other completely. Politics, biases, and stereotypes, would have had dangerous ramifications for clients, stakeholders, not to mention the psychological health and safety of the employees.
So how can YOU quickly increase your understanding of the individual differences in your workplace? Perhaps this is best answered by way of example:
I had a a client who was the leader and subject matter expert in a in a highly stressful National organisation. He was referred to coaching as his team had rated him negatively on a recent survey. He explained to me that his biggest problem was the allocation of projects to his diverse workforce. He said to me “No matter how I divide up the work, nothing gets done well and no one is ever happy. They spend their time bickering like young children instead of debating, challenging and solving problems”. As the coaching continued it was apparent that his natural tendency was make assumptions in order to logically and quickly solve problems. To enable him to listen to his team without judgement and encourage open conversation, amongst other things, I taught him about unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard involves having the mindset that everyone wants to improve in their lives. Genuine curiosity will convey to others that when you ask open questions you are seeking understand not judge the other persons behaviour. Celeste Headlee’s ted talk provided him with an excellent explanation of this mindset. After some practice, and feedback at work, my client reflected that listening with curiosity was easier said than done. However, he found that when he restrained his natural tendency to interrupt the silence, and make statements, he began to ask open questions. The information he gleaned from the more detailed conversations with his employees was invaluable. The shift in his leadership style lead to an increase in productivity, collaboration and morale, and over time, staff turnover was significantly reduced. My lecturer on individual differences was fond of reminding students that short term memory can hold about seven concepts and therefore it is easier to fit someone into a stereotype than to make the effort to concentrate and remember all the wonderful facets of each person we meet and work with.
One advantage of a stereotype is that it enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before. One disadvantage is that it makes us ignore differences between individuals; therefore we think things about people that might not be true (i.e. make generalizations).
Lunch times in my first job were marvellous, we would all sit together and chat about our heritage, values and work. People took the time to understand an d question each others cultural, religious, professional backgrounds and personalities. We could share both the diversity within the team and within our cultures, thus smashing stereotypes and enabling us to freely bring all relevant perspectives into our client work. The privilege of working in this diverse and inclusive workplace enabled me to learn many invaluable lessons relating to work, life and wellbeing from all my colleagues. In my opinion, diversity when cultivated is an integral part of beauty of the interconnected and forever changing world we live in.
Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common.
Celebrate it every day.
References: Klonek, Florian & Kauffeld, Simone. (2015). Providing engineers with OARS and EARS: Effects of a skills-based vocational training in Motivational Interviewing for engineers in higher education. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning. 5. 117–134. https://www.simplypsychology.org/katz-braly.html
Stereotypes By Saul McLeod, updated 2015
Unconditional Positive Regard If you think it's about smiling and nodding you are doing it wrong Posted Oct 07, 2012 Stephen Joseph Ph.D.
Paul Wilkins (2000) Unconditional positive regard reconsidered, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 28:1, 23-36,
Episode 12 of the Australian Social Trends Podcast series, Australian Bureau of Statistics https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features30April+2013
Short Term Memory, By Saul McLeod, published 2009