Often we hear people say, “I feel your pain.” This empathetic and well-meaning statement is generally untrue. It is like a man saying that he understands, or can feel, the pain of childbirth. The closest he will ever get is to actively listen to women talk of the pain, and to watch a child being born.
Similarly it is almost impossible for a person to effectively understand diversity whilst learning about “others” in isolation.
Often management groups ask us to teach “us” more about “them.” This is a way of keeping themselves aloof and safe from their diverse staff. Or, we are asked to teach “them” about “our way.” This is a group form of isolation, which substantially reduces the positive impact of diversity awareness training.
It has been our experience that diversity is best learnt, practically, in groups of diverse people. The diversities need to include, as far as possible: Gender, age, race, language, sexual preference, levels, departments, cultures and religions.
When combined in this way the benefits are tremendous. It is firstly possible to upscale the methodologies to a level of fun and competition. Secondly, the resultant interaction ensures long-term learning through the relationships that are built across diversities. Thirdly, there is a huge element of cross diversity team building and respect-building and finally, the lessons gained are either first or second-hand experiential skills.
Diversity awareness, learnt in isolation, will build the intellectual understanding of diversity, the fairness and injustice of diversity. Strong understanding will be gained of diversity and what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.
Sadly very little will be understood – at an emotional and experiential level. This can only be gained through interaction with people of different backgrounds.
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