How To Talk About Differences & Diversity
Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key concepts below:
It’s hard to collaborate effectively when you don’t agree on a common vocabulary, so let’s get a few things straight:
“Diversity” means an array of things that are different.
However, the word “diversity” is often used by people who mean to say “race” or “gender” but are less comfortable coming out and saying those things. This kind of ambiguity makes talking about differences more complicated.
I suggest that you always try to specify what kind when you use the word diversity. In other words: use adjectives like “demographic diversity” or “generational diversity” or “racial diversity” or “cognitive diversity,” so that everyone knows what you are specifically talking about.
And just say “differences” when you are talking in blanket terms.
Importantly, given the definition of “diversity”: It’s not helpful (and sometimes problematic) to call an individual a “diverse” person—especially when you actually mean to say that the person is a member of a minoritized group. Often people say a person is “diverse” when they mean to say “person of color” or “LGBTQ” or something else. It is much more helpful and less awkward to be specific and not hide behind the euphemism of “diverse.”
“Discrimination” is about taking away people’s power.
Discrimination is about seeing and treating people differently. By strict definition of the word, discrimination is about noticing differences and adjusting for them.
By this definition, discrimination can be perfectly valid and appropriate, even kind: E.g. Noticing that there is a tall person and a short person getting on the airplane, and offering the tall person a seat with more leg room.
By this definition, discrimination can also be cruel and counterproductive to good teamwork: E.g. Noticing that there is a tall person and a short person getting on the airplane, and making mean remarks about their height.
In today’s social and cultural context, what we’re usually talking about when we say “discrimination” has to do with creating power dynamics that favor some people and not others.
Any act, big or small, that ends up reducing a person’s power based on their differences is discrimination.
One of the most common acts of discrimination is saying or doing things that cut people down based on their identity or through implication of their belonging to a particular group.
Sometimes it is awkward to talk about differences, or to address words and actions that threaten to take away people’s power.
But the worst thing you can do is hesitate or poo poo around something important.
If you’re worried about using the wrong term around someone who is different than you, open up to them about this worry—face to face, and one-on-one when possible. It’s much easier to show good intentions and for people to read your meaning in person than over email or social media.
Kind teammates will be merciful if you show them that your intentions are good, and they will teach you how they prefer to be treated and spoken to.