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Vertical To Horizontal: A New Workplace Reality

Written by Rune Kvist Olsen Saturday, 08 April 2006

The inconsistency of diversity

Diversity is one of the greatest paradoxes in working-life. On the one side our organizations encourage diversity between people, but on the other side they are also working against diversity amongst people. Why so? What is the cause to this the inconsistent and counteractive behaviour? In spoken and written words we have no problems in finding lots of fine and honourable expressive views about the importance and necessity of diversity in the workplace. At the same time we find that the practice in implementing these nice words lacks foundation and anchoring in the workplace reality. To unleash diversity in the workplace will acquire and demand absolute tolerance and respect between human beings. Firstly, we have to accept that the differences between people are natural and normal features and will not be dismissed by coercion and force. Secondly we have to accept that inter-human differences in one way or another, are basic conditions in developing organizations and individuals. If however, we are working against inter-human differences (by promoting conformity and subservience) and diversity between human beings, we are contradicting the very essence of human relationship and the human nature. This contradicting of diversity will also consequently end up with us working against the main condition of developing our organizations and ourselves as human beings. And then we as individuals and organizations begin to deteriorate and dissolve our entity and undermine ourselves as valuable contributing members in the society.

When we go back to the question about why we are contradicting the mere existence of diversity, and why we are contradicting differences between human beings in the workplace, we find some strange answers. Some people cannot tolerate the thought of others differing from themselves. Differences can signify that there are actually common people that have more insights, knowledge and competence than their superiors, and because of this experienced unbalance in the relationship, this fact can be perceived from the superior's point of view as very scary - a threat to the superior's own self-esteem. If we are in a superior position and positioned above those with more capabilities than ourselves, we have however the legitimate right to use the necessary power to get control over our subordinates' capacities and capabilities. Then these subordinates are coerced to behave in a submissive and subservient manner regardless of their abilities and competences. And through these demands of conformity and loyalty, because of the vertical relation and hierarchical power-structure, the organization loses its capacity for prosperous evolution. And in the end the organization loses its ability to transform, transition and change - all in an absurd and senseless battle against the free human initiative, individual creation and personal enterprising skills. This loss is of course a tremendous waste as these human resources just lay there as untapped reserves and unused potential just waiting to be put into action.

This lack of understanding for the diversity complex in organizational life has led to a long history of effort to destroy diversity and substitute it with conformity. This is caused by of our difficulties in accepting and respecting other human beings as different from ourselves, and this lack of understanding is further brought about through our ambitions to mould other individuals in our own image. We are firstly inclined to see others as the persons we want them to be (as blueprints of who we think we selves are), and secondly we are not inclined to see others as the persons they actually and really are. If a relationship is based on control and command over others, this specific viewing can be very harmful for the persons who are exposed to treatment at the mercy of cynical power-holders.

Because of this paradoxical need to have other people become copies of ourselves, we will neither understand the necessity for nor value diversity in our organizations.

Richard Pascale11 notes in relation to the struggle involved in getting rid of polarities in the workplace: Ironically, the old mindset encourages us to devote a great part of management energy to maintaining equilibrium, eliminating tensions, enhancing consistency, and achieving a happy medium. But when you eliminate the polarities, you sacrifice vitality (life in itself).

Modern organizational structures have been established to suit the ideal rational personality type who can live in an orderly and predictable way with no problems whatsoever in behavioural conduct and in terms of organizational adaptiveness. Irrationality or non-rationality (as the essence of the true human nature) which are pejorative terms of human emotions and feelings, are viewed as anomalies to be suppressed and preferably eliminated from organizational life as inefficient and as non-existent.

Under these circumstances we must understand that organizations are just people-made and not holy-sacred-made as unchangeable establishments. It is people who create organizations and institutions through the power they get from their ranks and positions. The organizational creators then imbue their creations with authority in order to get and maintain power over their employees. The power-holders then effectuate management tools to implement control over others by systems of command and domination. These systems are frozen around the values and personalities of the controlling managers, and built into organizational structures, rules, regulations and procedures. These institutional patterns urge conformity and uniformity which militates against freedom for diversity and individual uniqueness, as the patterns become tools to rigidly dominate and control others in the best interests of the people in charge. The effect of this institutional pattern with the venerable idea of people submitting to or blindly following their leaders is dehumanizing because it leads to serious abuses of human freedom. Blind loyalty to outside leadership and human-created authority have caused great misery to humankind, have made our organizations and societies deteriorate and have been the main cause to the fall of earlier civilizations on earth.

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