“Environmental footprint” has become a popular concept, familiar to most of us today. People acknowledge the idea of personal responsibility in making the world a better place to live – or at least not making it worse – for our generation and the ones to come. The environmental footprint refers to the use of natural resources: the smaller the footprint is, the better.
How about adopting the concept of footprint in diversity management – a diversity footprint? It would illustrate the impact in making the world, a community, a work place, better for every individual. It would reflect everything we do to support people different from ourselves, and to enhance diversity and inclusion. The bigger the footprint is, the better we are doing.
Research indicates that practical and long-lasting personal contacts with diverse people are the key to tolerance, respect, inclusion and mutual dignity. Tolerating differences, and avoiding and addressing discrimination, is just the beginning, the base line. We should go far beyond our comfort zone and learn to live with ambiguity, questioning our own values and norms. It takes personal investment to learn new ways of thinking and feeling, to develop new attitudes.
It’s a common misconception that as long as our outward behavior is politically correct, the inner thoughts are invisible. In reality, thoughts send subtle micro messages through which our true nature is revealed. Moreover, oftentimes thoughts eventually lead to words and actions. They always make a mark. So does “inaction” (forgetting the other person’s name, accomplishments, or even her/his existence); inaction speaks louder than we think.
People who differ from the norm, usually develop great sensitivity for weak signals and hidden messages in other people’s behaviors, for managers’ biases and organizational dynamics. Therefore, to win the trust of everyone, there is a need for special effort and self-critical alertness to fight ignorance. There also is a need for courage to openly address inappropriate behavior, biases, and exclusion. These are the elements that make the footprint.