Attitudes towards diversity management: personal lenses

In the field of corporate diversity there is life outside of the US and the UK, and some of the remarkable cases can be found, despite many challenges, in France. One of them, in my opinion, is Vinci, a huge construction group with a high degree of autonomy in their different business units. They have implemented a diversity strategy based in “audits” around common processes and common categories (gender, inmigration, age, handicap). More specifics can be found in their webpage. They shared their approach in a recent meeting organized in Paris by AfmD, a company network in France which offers opportunities for collaborative learning and practices sharing among diversity practitioners.

One of the tools that Vinci uses in their diversity training to raise awareness is a personal assessment, where each participant can rank himself in a “diversity attitude continuum”. The scale has 5 positions and goes from defensive to proactive positions regarding diversity management. The lowest score corresponds to an attitude of “oppposition” and the highest one to an attitude of being “visionary”. I find this simple tool helpful to deal with the different attitudes of people towards diversity.

It is quite common to find women deeply uncomfortable with gender policies or gay people extremelly concerned with any sign of LGBT visibility. In general, most of the people don’t understand why there is a need to develop programs “in favour of minorities” (as they are usually seen). For all these people group differences and identites are not relevant and only individual performance matters (they believe in pure expected meritocracy). They are “colorblind” regarding diversity and as such they oppose any idea of diversity management.

The book “10 Lenses” by the American author Mark A. Williams  explains the different perception filters people use to look at the diversity of people. Each lens works as set of beliefs. Being “colorblind” is one of them, but in the opposite side, you can also find people extremelly proud of their group identity. For them, belonging to a particular group is at the core of their personal identity. They tend to see all that happens to them as explained by that single dimension, and they feel under public scrutiny and discrimination on a daily basis. Life for them is a permanent collection of homophobia, sexism or racism. They are permanent “victims“.

Between colorblind and victims, there are other perception filters, other “lenses” to look at people and their differences. Some people are “elitists” (my group is superior), other “assimilationists” (very common in France: “we are all French and that’s all that counts…”), other multiculturalists (we need to work on the inclusion of all differences to build a mosaic).  We all have these multiple lenses but we tend to have a strong preference for some of them based on contextual factors (historical and political events) and personal factors (how we build our own identity giving priority to some of our differences).  Gallup, a consultancy specialized in measuring everything, has developed a questionnaire and, after multiple correlation and regression analysis, has concluded that these “lenses” are common patterns of thoughts and feelings at least among the US general population.

The book 10 Lenses is available for free download in Google books. In addition, the portal My Identity provides a full range of services to help assess your personal lenses and manage those of your coworkers.

With either a tool or another, a simple scale used by Vinci, or a sophisticated 10 lenses evaluation,  it is always critical to consider the different personal attitudes towards diversity management within an organization. It will affect the speed of the change management process to build an inclusive workplace and your chances to have meaningful conversations with key executives. Beyond self-assessments, perhaps it is just a question of begining with the basic question “What does Diversity mean to you?”.

Note: I wrote a post in Spanish about the 10 Lenses approach in April 2009. I have translated a good part of it to build this post in English.

About Uxío Malvido

Spanish; based in Paris; HR Director.
This entry was posted in Diversity Basics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Attitudes towards diversity management: personal lenses

  1. Thank you for the link to the book. I’ll be reading that over this upcoming weekend.

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