Full-time MBA participant Natcha Khiangprakhong attended “How open are we really to welcome diversity?”, part of the Wisdom Principles Series from Vlerick Alumni. She shares what she learned from the event.
Diversity is on the agenda of all organisations – but are they really ready for it? This was the question I hoped to answer at a recent talk by Professor Smaranda Boros. She teaches cross-cultural management and organisational behaviour and has a wealth of international experience – so I hoped the session would combine theory with real-life examples.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Professor Boros talked about her experience of gender discrimination when she started her career – and how this motivated her to pursue excellence. She offered valuable insights into why diversity is a powerful asset for organisations, but also why they struggle to achieve it. Here are some of my key takeaways:
Fear of the unknown
The session started in a dark room – designed to show how “the fear of darkness” represents the bias people have towards diversity. Individuals have different mindsets, viewpoints and attitudes because we all grow up in different environments. But Professor Boros says one thing we all have is a hidden “shadow” – something about us that the society we live in finds difficult to accept. We fear the unknown, but we also fear revealing our true selves.
Society tries to foster diversity
According to Professor Boros, there are three main ways society tries to foster diversity. First assimilation – where people are absorbed into a society’s culture. Then the melting pot, where people from all over the world come together with their own cultures, traditions and languages to form a society. The USA is the best known example of this, but many Americans have forgotten that a melting pot comes from many different ingredients – instead believing their country has one identity, one race and one culture. The final way is with a mosaic, where different groups co-exist and members of society acknowledge diversity and accept each other’s differences.
Fear is the enemy of diversity
Research shows diverse organisations are more successful. But achieving diversity isn’t always easy. Professor Boros asked us to think about our identities at work and how we portray ourselves. She explained that most of us don’t display our whole selves when we’re in the workplace.
Why? Because of fear. Fear narrows our minds and creates bias, so we close ourselves off to others and unconsciously discriminate against them. A team that’s full of fear is less creative, less satisfied and less diverse.
Diverse workplaces start with self-inclusion
Professor Boros says organisations need to promote self-inclusion. When individuals are able to express their true selves at work and don’t feel they have to fake it to fit in, the team as a whole becomes more authentic. People are more open and want to help each other more. This, in turn, helps the organisation succeed. Another thing we need to do is show ourselves compassion – by accepting we’re human and acknowledging that things usually don’t turn out perfectly. When we can do this, we’re more likely to show compassion to others in our workplaces.
The lecture ended with an encouraging call to action – to be self-inclusive and have self-compassion in the workplace. This makes us more open to diversity. And diversity is a powerful asset for any organisation.
“How open are we really to welcome diversity?” was part of Vlerick’s Wisdom Principles Series. Find out more here.