Workplace diversity: Should companies address it in a formal manner?
If anything, that is different from others it’s called diversity. As such, it very much depends on which angle we are coming from. The most common discussion is from the angle of race and religion. Is this something new? It might be something new in the Western countries, as in the past, the population mainly are consisting of one race and religion. However, the Eastern part of the world is already exposed to all these. For example in Malaysia and Singapore, they are already living together with multi-racial society such as Malay, Chinese, Indian and other races with multi-religion too, like Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, etc. India being a vast country also faces with multi-religion, languages, and history too.
Besides race and religion, there’s also a discussion started many years ago regarding generation. We are talking about “Baby Boomer”, “Gen-X”, “Gen-Y”, “Gen-Z” and more to come. But what do these generations mean? Are they really different from each other? For a Baby Boomer at the age of 10, are they behave differently from a Gen-Z at the same age? Besides one might be watching black and white TV and another playing a smartphone, what else are the differences?
There are many studies or researches trying to distinguish the character of each of the generations. Gen-Y are associated with “Fun Driven” and believe in “Now”. This brings me to think of that Rock & Roll era in the 50s. Was the youngster that time also seeking for “Fun” and “Thrill”? How about the 80s during the hip-hop era? Whether the youngster was from the 50s or 80s, the common comment from their parents is “these kids were out of control and just know how to enjoy”. Sounds familiar?
Many ancient philosophers were saying the same thing for youngster thousand years ago. One of the quotes from Aristotle was “They [Young People] have exalted notions because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations; moreover, their hopeful disposition makes them think themselves equal to great things -- and that means having exalted notions. They would always rather do noble deeds than useful ones: Their lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning -- all their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything -- they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else”.
There’s also some studies say that Gen-Y are more tech-savvy than the older generations. But what’s the meaning of “tech” in this context? I’m sure 10 years from now, Gen-Z or even the next generation will be more “tech-savvy” than Gen-Y. How many Gen-Y who knows how to handle a manual car or making a phone call via analog phone even though the parents had locked the number pad?
My observation here is not really because they were born in certain years that caused them to have certain characteristics. But it’s all because each of us is at a certain age with different exposures and life cycle. Just like with two individuals of the same age, one is married with children and another is single. There’s a high possibility that the thinking and action will be very much different, even though they are coming from the same generation.
So, now the million-dollar question is, should we really treat them differently? Should we really need to put a policy to address diversity? I would say there is no right or wrong answer to it and it very much depends on each company. As each company will have different experience and culture. If we just jump onto the bandwagon by having some policies on this without accessing our own situation, it can backfire. For example, if all these while all colleagues from different races, gender and generation are happily working together without any issue, and suddenly a company introduces a “Diversity Policy”, what message the company is going to portray? Maybe all these while employees already have this diversity tolerance, but suddenly with this policy, it will trigger them to think or make aware that they are different from each other. As such, instead of focusing on having a policy of policing the employees, it will be more effective in focusing on the company’s culture and to make diversity as a way of life.
The company also doesn’t have to purposely design some programs for different generations in mind. A company should focus on different employee’s need instead. This is because we cannot have one size fit all program. Not all Gen-Y or Gen-X behave the same or have the same needs and wants.
In summary, not all the challenges faced by the West will be the same in the East. With our history and cultures that we have, we are already in the diversified environment for a hundred years. As such, we should have our own unique way to handle diversity.