We have been saturated with the idea of diversity within our organizations and community. We have heard the benefits of diversity and how we are less empowered when we have less diversity than not. A lack of diversity has been equated with racism, bigotry, ethnic purism, discrimination and a host of other negative connotations that are meant to elicit a sense of disdain. While I’m not bagging out the benefits of diversity, nor the problems that a lack of diversity creates, it has become more of a back woods rite of passage…nothing more.

What ruffles my feathers is how diversity has devolved into this tickbox that organizations use to show they are “progressive“. Diversity has become a part of their marketing and recruiting campaigns and diminishes the original need for diversity into nothing more than an HR metric and a really cool definition that’s supposed to make us feel warm, gooey and accepting as if we have reached some imagined state of organizational enlightenment.

Diversity is the what, but without embracing the reason behind the need for diversity, the how and the why of it all go painfully unnoticed. What good is diversity if the things brought to the table by the diverse nature of people has no voice or outlet for expression within your organization? It’s as if there is an assumption that the expression of the diversity we publicly portray as so precious could be in direct opposition to what we want to do and how we want to do it within our organizations. So, we create policies and processes to administrate away the value diversity brings to an organization for the sake of control and perceived safety (read risk management).

What’s the solution? Cultural pluralism. An organization that believes there is absolutely no overlap with the established or desired organizational culture and the personal culture that comes from diversity is quite telling of far out of touch they are with their workforce. Why would you recruit such a large number of people that don’t align with your culture? Oh yeah…that pesky diversity metric so you appear to be an employer of choice in order to recruit and retain top talent. Anyone else seeing a circular argument forming here?

The only perfect culture is one that understands and embraces the positive contributions from all participating cultures. Taking a cultural elitist position doesn’t do anyone any favors. Just as contemporary art exists and thrives while being made up of a number of different expressions side by side, organizations can benefit from this type of cultural pluralism as well.

Of course there can’t be 100% expression from every single cultural contribution from different people in an organization. There CAN be an opportunity to express those cultural differences within the parameters of your organizational values. Our respective cultures are intertwined with our identity. To attack or suppress culture is to do the same to an individual. While you may feel justified, you will NOT have engaged employees.

If your employee engagement surveys don’t address the issue of cultural pluralism and employees having a voice based on who they are, not playing the role of a “company man/woman”, then your engagement will suffer because it has the feel of an autocracy. People have to do more than know culture.  They have to feel it. Engagement begins when things feel personal and they have a vested interest in things. You don’t get too much more personal than culture. Lighten up and let people support your culture by expressing theirs.