Understanding (Cultural) Diversity & Inclusion - Your Vocabulary for Success

April 21, 2022 by Melinda Meszaros

Colourful sidewalk chalk
Image credit: Melinda Meszaros

Cultural diversity and diversity & inclusion are trending and important topics. Perhaps you too feel you should know more about it, or your organisation is doing a diversity and inclusion project. While everybody is busy with the topic, the definitions are often blurry and we don't always know how to get started. This article will help you understand the most important vocabulary on diversity and inclusion and to understand these concepts crystal clearly. We are going to look at the heart of it all: what is diversity, inclusion and cultural diversity, cultural intelligence and cultural competency.

Diversity, in the context of diversity and inclusion in our society and organisations, means acknowledging and appreciating the difference in the ways humans are and humans live. Inclusion, in the same context, means making sure that all human beings, regardless of their differences, are respected equally and given equal chances to perform and develop personally and professionally.

Paradoxically, looking at diversity we can say that every individual is unique, so by default diversity is a given. However, for social and practical reasons, we humans have been organising ourselves into very distinguishable groups, called cultures. Cultures shape our character, and, from an outside point of view, define us to a certain extent. This bring us to cultural diversity. Let's break it down!

Culture in a broad sense means: 'We do it together, we do it our way!' A culture simply is a group of people who do things together in their own way, which makes them different from other groups. These distinctions can relate to, for example, societal structure, like in case of national culture. It can be based on intellectual qualities, such as groups of people with the same profession. It could mean sub-cultures such as geeks, goths, or bikers. Also it can refer to physical/psychological qualities like people living with certain disabilities. So, cultural diversity means that we have people on board from all kinds of different cultures AND sub-cultures.

Now we know what diversity and cultural diversity means. Following the current trends, and common sense, we also understand that we need to think about how to diversify our connections and organisations. We also gather that we should do this in a way that everybody feels equally included (hence diversity & inclusion. This is a huge challenge and we develop specific skills and knowledge to tackle it. Let's mention two of these.

Our ability to cross boundaries and thrive in a culturally diverse environment is our cultural intelligence (sometimes abbreviated to CQ). We want to use this cultural intelligence to be able to collaborate and encourage cooperation across cultures consciously and purposefully. For this we need to be able to understand and analyse the effect of culture on ourselves, our peers, teams and organisations. When we set out on this journey we are learning how to manage culture effectively, efficiently and ethically. This is called building our cultural competency.

These definitions are the very basis of any conversation on diversity and culture. In the next articles we'll further dive into the topic discovering more on on how you can think and learn about diversity in a way that it becomes your strength.

Next up: Why Did Isha Leave? - The Importance of Setting Explicit Career Expectations in a Culturally Diverse Team

Previously: How Well Do You Look After Your Expats?