Approaches to Dealing with Difference and Diversity

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Approaches to Managing Diversity

We’ve worked with the following model a lot over the years and it can be applied both “behind the scenes” inside the service delivery organisation and also directly on the customer front line.

Work through the list and identify where your organisation, department or team sit along the “line of quality”.

Exclude / Deny

At work and in management…

People who are different from the majority may not be recruited or invited to join a team in the first place as managing diversity is seen as too much trouble. If invited to join an organisation or team those people who are different from the majority may simply have their differences – including strengths and needs – ignored. This is because responding to these differences is seen as too much trouble.

In customer relationships…

People who are different from the majority feel excluded and not understood nor accepted. They feel their differences are denied by the housing provider and its associated service providers – either in front of them or privately, behind their back.  Key processes don’t seem to take them into account, making them feel ignored and left out.

Assimilate / Suppress

At work and in management…

Differences in the workforce are acknowledged. The management approach sends out a clear message that whilst there are some differences, everyone is expected to conform to the majority norms of the organisation – ‘be like us’ syndrome.

In customer relationships…

Differences in tenants are acknowledged but it is made clear to customers that it is they who have to fit into the processes, rules and ways of doing things of the provider and not vice versa. “Whilst we recognise X< it is our policy that you do Y”.

Isolate / Tolerate

At work and in management…

Those employees who are different from the majority are ‘in theory’ welcomed. However, to avoid any difficulties with integrating them into the majority cultures and norms they tend to be placed in isolated jobs/roles/areas of the organisation. These may be specialised areas that the minority are thought to have particular knowledge or skills in.

In customer relationships…

There are clear efforts to tolerate and accommodate special and different needs and wishes, but these tend to be separated off. Customers feel attention is unnecessarily drawn to their need by it being named and isolated. For example, a separate entrance for wheelchairs round the back of a building.

Build Quality Relationships  and  Foster Mutual Adaptation

At work and in management…

This approach is characterised by its acceptance, understanding and valuing of the differences that exist within the workforce. It is recognised that in a diverse working environment – everyone has to change – not just those in a minority – in order to adapt to each other. Out of the mix of differences and similarities something new is created that is greater than the some of its individual parts.

In customer relationships…

Customers feel acknowledged and part of a two-way processes of seeking understanding through flexibility and adaptation, as well as attempting to incorporate difference into “normal” service delivery. Also the difference are a creative opportunity to enhance the experience of both receiving and delivering service.


A Work-Based Example

Use the scene below to work through the above model.

Scene – On Stage

A potential freelance employee reveals a phobia which results in him being dropped from a job after an offer is accepted

A conversation in the street

Amy: Hello Sam, long time no see!

Sam: Oh, hiya! Yes, I’ve been on tour. Back now. How’s the world of corporate training.

Amy: Busy busy! Actually I am glad I have bumped into you. We’ve just won a contract to do some communications training with Eurostar.

Sam: That’s great. Are you going to use role play again?

Amy: Yes, I am working with three actors and the good news for you is that I am stilling looking for actor number 3. What are you doing in November?

Sam: Free the whole month. Surprise surprise.

Amy: Well, how about 14 days work at £150 a day?

Sam: Oh brilliant. I’ll put it straight in my diary.

(Sam gets diary out and starts to write dates in)

Amy: Yes, we have 14 days; we’ll be working with all staff, even train drivers and for half of the workshops we go through the Channel Tunnel to work in Calais.

(Sam stops writing)

Sam: Oh.

Amy: What’s up?

Sam: I am not sure I ever told you. Tunnels are out for me. Bad Claustrophobia.

Amy: Oh, I didn’t know.

Sam: No, it hasn’t ever really come up before.

Amy: That rather screws things up.

Sam: I don’t have a problem with cross channel ferries.

Amy: No, but the client might. I mean, that’s one of their major competitors.

Sam: Ah.

Amy: Sorry, Sam. I think I might have to ask you to pass on this one…


(Model drawn from Thomas, R. Redefining Diversity, AMACOM, 1996, Gillian Shapiro, SHAPIRO Consulting, Research and Training 2002 – Gillian is one of my co-authors on the book: “E:Quality”)

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