Sameness, specifically in terms of trying to treat everyone the same, is not the right way to view diversity.
We must be careful of the trap of thinking that everyone must be treated the same. This is true of some things (such as remuneration for the same work done), yet the overriding factor should be fairness.
Sameness means that things are alike, there’s no differences or variety. We don’t live in a world of uniformity or monotony. All teenagers are not mere duplicates of one another on the inside or outside, neither are their elders.
People have different needs and desires. The way we speak to a five-, 15- or 55-year-old would all differ, as would the topics we would talk about. So, instead of getting caught up in the trap of ‘sameness’, rather apply fairness across the age, gender and race groups, and in all matters of diversity.
We can’t treat everyone the same, but we can and should treat them fairly and respectfully, and as fits with their personal characteristics and views as well.
It would probably not be right to send your 60-year-old accountant up a ladder to find something on a high shelf in the factory. Neither would you expect your newly employed 20-year-old factory assistant to draw up the quarterly budget. They have different skills and abilities, and the age factor is relevant here. These situations would both be overwhelming for the person, but swap them around, and it makes sense. It becomes fair.
Thus, sameness is not what people mean when they speak about equality, women and children’s rights, age gaps, etc. – it’s about being fair and reasonable in our treatment and expectations of others.
We need to have a good understanding of the various demographic groups’ needs if we are to harness their beautifully diverse characteristics for optimum performance and achieve employee engagement. To handle, cooperate with, retain and get the best value from all employees, we must apply the overriding factor of fairness, rather than falling into the trap of narrow-minded sameness.
The assistance that a girl or woman needs to reach self-sufficiency is different from what a boy or man needs, particularly because of social norms and expected duties, and the availability of resources. This is true also for those who’ve had little access to education compared to those who have had better access. Different interventions are required and special consideration for different people’s needs.
Feminists and other activists are trying to get recognition for this. They are not saying don’t educate men and boys; they are saying educate everyone while taking into consideration their unique needs in conducting education.
Boys and men struggle when their needs are not taken into account. Neurological and behavioural research has shown why boys tend to perform worse overall than girls in our schooling system. Boys’ ways of learning differ in that many require more hands-on education experiences, which schools provide too little of.
This is true for some girls as well but, overall, girls tend to perform better under the current education system than boys. We need to address this – not by treating children all the same, but by treating them fairly according to their needs.
At the same time, we know that in some societies girls’ education is not a priority. This keeps women and girls trapped in a cycle of poverty and at the mercy of men who don’t always have their best interests at heart.
We need to correctly interpret the messages that activists, feminists, social rights advocates, etc. are sending. They are not asking for blind equality. They certainly do want equality. However, for us all to get there, interventions, policies, training, and treatment in all types of organisations need to take the diverse needs of individuals into account. Often these needs are not what we expect.
If you would like to find out more about the needs of your diverse employees and colleagues, get a copy of the book Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (Devan Moonsamy, 2018).
It is specially designed for the needs of contemporary South African workplaces. It offers valuable insight into diversity-related challenges faced by all South Africans.
The book looks at overcoming instant separation magnets (ISMs), and how to manage diversity so that everybody wins. The aspects of diversity are considered in detail with real examples and practical information on dealing with and preventing diversity-related problems.
Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us (ISBN: 978-0-620-80807-1) is available from the ICHAF Training Institute.
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