The concept of Diversity in South Africa might seem like a worn out tyre to some, or to others a once a year dress-up opportunity on National Heritage day… clearly there is still much development and work to be done for our country to truly embrace the essence and harmony of diversity, especially at an institutional level.
Post-apartheid saw many changes in the corporate environment, where companies were obliged to cater for diversity on a racial, cultural and gender role level. There were changes in policy and diversity management programs rolled out left, right and center. There was much positive and constructive change to be implemented and applauded for in cases where companies were successful and still are to this day. But where do we stand as a nation today in lieu of the corporate world? Policy may have changed but has policy filtered through to the ground level when it comes to diversity? Does policy even allow for the free expression of diversity or does it try to capitalize on the ‘convenient’ qualities of staff members for the companies’ benefit?
There is an evident flaw in the scope of diversity management. Firstly, ‘managing diversity’ has disciplinary and repressive connotations. Diversity is something to be channeled, explored and expressed. Secondly, the way diversity is framed and defined is problematic as it more often than not most refers to one’s race, gender, religion and/or culture. Yes, diversity is inclusive of these but goes way beyond these too. The Creativity Revolution would like to offer new ways of defining diversity, I mean doesn’t such a word deserve a diverse definition. Here it goes….Diversity is the holistic collection of the colourful parts of ourselves, including the parts that are different to one another. Diversity is inclusive of but not limited to a person’s individual likes, dislikes, ways of expression, strengths, challenges, quirks, playfulness, seriousness, opinions, lack of opinions, spiritual orientations, their high pitched voice, the fact that they support their siblings, their hobbies outside of their suit or heels, their shyness… and the list goes on.
Diversity, generally, is not embraced in this way very often in the workplace because of fear. Embracing something you do not know in a specific environment is scary. Embracing diversity in this way opens up space for emotion (part of the so-called ‘soft-issues’)…the scariest and most avoided thing (sic) to possibly enter the workplace, but it doesn’t have to be so because if channeled appropriately, it could improve individuals’ lives and in turn contribute positively towards a business. When acknowledging the diversity in oneself, the diversity in others becomes apparent, which results in improved interpersonal relations and communication in diverse spaces, aiming to strengthen the social structure and culture in a space. The point is that when you embrace your own diversity, you own it and in owning it you own your emotions and feelings making you more likely to be able to confront someone else’s feelings with the intent of a resolution as opposed to a personal attack. It’s called emotional intelligence. I can picture CEOs and managers wanting to beat me with a stick…and understandably so because I am challenging you to create space for your employees (and yourself) to embrace their own diversity with themselves and others, something that they may have never conceived of in their lives. I ask you to imagine a corporate South Africa that actively participates and interacts with what diversity really looks like on an authentic and deeper level than colorful clothing. I ask you to imagine the positive impact on families and communities in South Africa if you contribute towards building your individual employees who spend most their time at work. So put your stick down… and let’s talk!
I, Chelsey May, offer Inside-Out Diversity workshops in schools and corporate environments. Inside-Out Diversity workshops are tailor-made applied drama based workshops that encourage individuals to focus on, embrace and acknowledge their own differences apart from and alongside other people’s differences.
-Chelsey May is the founder of The Creativity Revolution.