Written by Jean Cooper and Graeme Codrington.
The previous e-zine had a great article by Barrie Bramley and Dr. Graeme Codrington, entitled: Loving and leading diversity. In this article they explain the business benefits of deeply embracing diversity in the workplace. They also touched on how NOT to do diversity.
However, if the way to approach the opportunities diversity opens to our organisations is NOT to force people into a room where we expect them to talk to each other and like each other, how then should it be done? In a longitudinal study (over 12 years) by the University of Pretoria, they came up with an interesting framework for making diversity work. I call it the “3 spaces-framework”, based on the research of Prof Hannes De Beer (2002).

Firstly, before we get to the framework, we need to grasp the concept of contextualized diversity, or rather: contextualized culture. This means that within YOUR organisation, you don’t need to make global diversity work – you need to make the diversity in YOUR organisation work. Of course, as mentioned by Barrie and Graeme, you first need to acknowledge that diversity indeed is a global issue. But then, and here is another paradox, you need to make it work within YOUR context. Now, let’s move onto the framework…
The first space
Before one can move to the second and third spaces, one needs to thoroughly move through the first space. In this space, I need to accept the things that make me different from others. If we speak about cultural diversity – I need to accept, understand and be proud of the fact that I am an Afrikaner, or a Tswana, or a German. I don’t have to shy away from it or make excuses for it – there is nothing wrong with being part of my culture. Many people get stuck in this space. They are so proud of and set in their culture that it offends their identity to even consider moving closer to people from other cultures. I have only really moved through this space when I am proud to be an Afrikaner, but my Afrikaans identity is not threatened by my interactions with people from other cultures. Successfully engaging space 1 also goes for other forms of diversity i.e. gender, generation, profession, personality etc.
The second space
Now it is time for me and you to engage around our differences. How does being an Afrikaans 20-something male from Pretoria differ from being a Tswana 40-something female from Gabarone? This is the space where we explore and ask and try to understand without judging – because there is nothing wrong with being from any specific culture (space 1). What do other cultures believe in terms of family-life, religion, weddings, work, possessions, leadership, death and birth? How does that differ from what my culture believes and adheres to? Please note that having a deeper understanding for each other’s cultures doesn’t mean that we need to agree or even like the “funny” stuff that forms part of “them”. It simply means that we now understand this person better and that we respect the differences we have.
The third space
Once I am at peace with my own culture, and once I have a deeper level of insight into your culture, we can start building a relationship that will work for both of us within this context where we are engaging (e.g. the workplace). Now it is time for us to concentrate on the common, context-specific needs, desires and practices which we both hold dear. Perhaps we learn something about the other culture that actually will work better in our working context and perhaps there are aspects about the context to which we both need to adapt to anyway. Slowly but surely, as we get to know and respect each other, we might experience the emergence of some shared values and norms. And eventually, who knows, a new, shared, contextualized culture.
Finally, it needs to be noted that we should not again fall into the trap of a 3rd-space culture group think. And we should not get stuck on cultural diversity as the only form of diversity. Here is the paradox again – we need to create a sense of unity (through the processes mentioned above) while simultaneously being passionate about remaining beautifully different from each other – in mind, body, heart and spirit.

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