Experts in the fields of leadership development agree that diversity in the workplace is an asset if managed effectively. It is also the cornerstone of personal, social and organizational transformation.
Nolitha Tsengiwe and Michael Scott are executive coaches and facilitators at the Centre for Conscious Leadership (CCL), a South African networked consulting organisation specializing in leadership development.
Both have contributed to the company’s Diversity Work Progamme, which introduces clients to a radical, direct method of intra-and interpersonal engagement that can lead to meaningful transformation within the workplace. CCL believes that Diversity Work is a core component of leadership development.
“Diversity, for us, is not a topic. Rather, it is a ‘way of being in the world’ – a lens through which to observe ourselves; our lives, our work, and how we manage our relationships. Particularly, it encompasses how we interact with people who are different to us; not just people of different race, but also gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion and so on.” Tsengiwe explains.
According to consultants at CCL, Diversity Work also takes account of the diversity that exists within us as individuals. When we start to acknowledge and get to know the different parts of ourselves, we are more likely to be able to step into the shoes of others and to hold their views deeply and respectfully. It draws on and reinforces the belief prevalent in Africa culture that “I am because you are and you are because we are.”
Scott and Tsengiwe had the opportunity to present their Diversity Work and how it relates to executive coaching at the 7th Annual Mentoring & Coaching Conference held recently in Johannesburg.
In their presentation, they draw on the work of Arnold Mindell of the Process Work Institute in Portland to support the idea that Diversity Work includes becoming aware of how the nature of our own differences can often lead to us unconsciously hurting or offending others through our behaviours and actions.
“Every culture or group of people has what is considered a mainstream position that includes subtle agreements as to what ways of thinking and behaving is acceptable and what is not. These come from sets of values, beliefs and norms. Those who are different to the mainstream often experience having less personal power in these groups and struggle to integrate and interact. When this shows up in organisations, management processes like information sharing and decision-making are negatively impacted as not all team members are able to contribute openly and effectively,” adds Scott.
Members of mainstream groups have what is called rank. This is defined as the sum total of a person’s privileges, earned or inherited arising from cultural norms, community values and psychological and spiritual attributes.
“Awareness of our sources of rank contributes to the quality of our interaction with others” says Tsengiwe. “It also helps us to seek the wisdom in all perspectives, and helps to bring about alignment within teams
“Diversity Work is a courageous process of intra-personal and interpersonal engagement with the potential to support the transformation of individuals, groups and communities,” she adds.
“It is the cornerstone of CCL’s work in South Africa with its history of violence and is an imperative for creating a society where pain and suffering can be healed, and hope of a just and equitable society can be fostered.”
The message from CCL is that companies can leverage off their people assets by engaging in learning rich conversations around diversity and transformation.