Diversity and Difference

“Working with diversity seeks to focus on the positives and strengths of difference as well as the problems. It engages with and understands the totality of people’s identity and experience, and in addition recognises and confronts experiences of oppression and discrimination and their impact on the individual”. Camilla Tegg, Tuklo Orenda Associates

The health and social care sector has a diverse workforce. Over 8% of directly employed staff in the NHS are from minority ethnic groups, which makes the NHS the largest employer of minority ethnic groups in the UK. (Collins, 2001). At the end of 2000, over 7% of staff in social services were from minority ethnic groups. (DoH statistical survey)

People do have differences; and these differences can be broken down into primary and secondary types of diversity (Wilson and Iles, 1999). Visible differences such as gender, ethnic origin, and age fall into the primary category; whilst less obvious differences such as class, sexuality, disability and work style come under the secondary category.

Many differences occurring within behaviour, lifestyles, customs and habits embrace tradition going back generations and these are often encapsulated in what we know as culture.

Lemos and Crane (DoH, 2001) highlighted a lack of cultural awareness and unequal treatment in service delivery.

Diversity is a concept that embraces a wide range of characteristics including:

  • language
  • ‘race’
  • ethnic background
  • dress
  • values
  • age
  • gender
  • educational background
  • religious observances
  • political interests
  • notions about social and community responsibilities
  • economic status
  • mental, physical disabilities

Diversity, or difference, is a central feature of modern existence, partly because of interaction between cultures; partly for historical reasons; and partly through the growth of international communications technology. As a result, we have to be aware and accepting of differences if we want to reap the benefits that naturally flow from diversity.

We are living in a society that is ethnically and culturally diverse and it is important that services reflect this.

“Achieving a workforce that better reflects the lives of different people and sections of society is a first step towards bringing services closer to different communities and perspectives, and a better match of services to needs” (DoH, 2000, p13)

In the same way that cultures interact with each other, diversity brings new skills and fresh ideas. We are all different one from each other and it is these differences that have a penetrating value and direct pertinence to the workplace.

The key elements of working with diversity and discrimination are (1):

  • That discrimination is often, subtle, unintentional and cumulative
  • That people often respond to being told they are discriminatory by being defensive, dismissive, denying, disregarding or down grading
  • That discrimination can be active or passive. Doing nothing in some situations can be as damaging as actively discriminating
  • That people are multi-dimensional. They are not just a race or gender, but have an age, a class, sexuality, an educational experience. All these things will affect who they are.
  • There are often hidden elements to our own and others diversity; a sexuality, dyslexia, a particular faith
  • The impact of your difference on others, remembering that we are as different from others as they are of us, and power relationships arising
  • Recognise and celebrate the strengths and positives of diversity

“Language differences, differences in religion, employment status, class, culture, differences in physical abilities – these are just some of the differences amongst us. We have to recognise these. Our challenge is not to ignore these differences or sideline the through one-off special measures, but to respond to this diversity as a matter of course in all that we do” (DoH, 2000, p 13)

Source: extract from UWE’s Tackling Racial Harassment in the Workplace resource pack, and (1) additional material from Tuklo Orenda Associates
Collins M (2001) Racial harassment in the NHS in N Coker (ed) Racism in Medicine, An agenda for change. Kings Fund
Department of Health (2000) The Vital Connection: An Equalities Framework for the NHS
Lemos and Crane (2001) Tackling Racial Harassment in the NHS: Evaluating Black and Minority Ethnic Staff’s Attitudes and Experiences [online DoH www.doh.gov.uk/raceharassment/trhguide.htm]