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Embracing DIVERSITY for a healthy workplace.


Diversity and inclusiveness in society and the workplace are influenced by an individual's personal social, political and cultural beliefs. Beliefs are based upon experience, are changeable, can be complex and are not necessarily fact"'. We all have these beliefs, developing them throughout the course of our lives. The paper is informed by my own personal experience, knowledge and research. In it I will first identify and reflect on my own social, political and cultural beliefs (including biases).

Education, reflection and mindfulness help to identify areas that I may act upon to improve personal and social awareness. I discuss how I have done this and how I may continue to do so. This is important to do because an individual's social and cultural beliefs may help to understand others and work inclusively with others from different backgrounds with different belief systems. Being informed enables me to see how beliefs impact on diversity and different cultural groups. Next, I will discuss how these beliefs may create or contribute to potential problems in a workplace setting. Finally, ways in which diversity and inclusiveness can be valued and respected in all areas of work will be outlined. Misunderstandings or difficulties occur and can negatively affect social and cultural diversity. This paper will reflect on ways in which this effect may be minimised.


My beliefs shape me. They are the individual I am. Not all my beliefs are consciously known to me. Continued and consistent reflection and mindfulness assist me in becoming aware of these hidden' beliefs. I examine my behaviour and attempt to determine how it has been informed. It is an unfolding, a discovery. I concur with Socrates: 'an unexamined life is not worth living'. I am constantly learning and as my self-knowledge grows I am at times surprised at what has underpinned my language and behaviour.

I strive to live by my values and have my belief system informed by those values. I believe most of my beliefs about others adhere to a core set of values/principles, which are equality, autonomy, justice/fairness, quality of life, respect, compassion and being non-judgmental. However, I am aware it is also not possible for me to be without bias or prejudice, although it is possible to behave well in their presence by exercising awareness of them.

Bias may become present in me when people don't live according to my values. I believe everyone should' be or behave according to my principles (equality, autonomy, justice/fairness, quality of life, respect, compassion and a non-judgmental attitude). There are beliefs which relate to health: I have had a bias against people who smoke (they don't respect their bodies) and health professionals who are obese (not a good role model for practising what you preach). I think differently about people who disrespect or ill treat women, children - anyone or thing for that matter. However whatever the belief, there are ways to develop different attitudes and behaviour.

Having awareness and practising/behaving according to my values hopefully enables me to treat everyone as an individual. If being biased is an issue then abiding by a professional code of conduct/ethics assists working with diverse people as it follows principles of equity. Having knowledge and awareness of legislation related to discrimination, harassment and equal opportunity, (that inform workplace policy and procedure) helps to ensure enforcement of equity principles. Professional codes of conduct do not, they guide (1).

I practise the attitude that behind every face, every person has a story that I may know nothing about and every person is doing their best. Not everyone was born into the privileged position (my belief) I was as a middle class white Australian. These beliefs and attitudes allowed the development of compassion and empathy'.

Making and Breaking Problems

Biases can potentially create issues in the workplace. Stereotyping may lead to discrimination, not understanding others, and decrease the ability to work with others and deliver a high quality service (1) Sometimes I use politically incorrect language, and, although this is done with no malicious intent, it could be interpreted as unaccommodating of diversity, being judgmental or leading to an individual not feeling valued. This has the potential to undermine relationships, making them ineffective and making an individual feel disempowered (1). In a workplace with diversity and difference there is the opportunity to learn from others, but when there is prejudice or bias this learning may not occur and there will be a failure to develop interdependent relationships (1).

Having awareness of my own limitations assists me to work positively with people, for when they feel valued and their differences are taken into account people work better. Having a high standard of work ethic helps to meet the needs of clients regardless of their diversity (1).

By acting out and demonstrating their ethical principles and values individuals become positive role models to colleagues and clients. What this does is help motivate workers to follow their positive examples and potentially reduce bias in the workplace (1).

Empathy helps create a different perspective from one's own. Empathy enables one to see and acknowledge another individual's view, permitting them to feel valued and heard.

Gaining Awareness

There are many ways to improve personal and social awareness. This may be facilitated by using reflection, asking questions like, 'Why do I do as I do? Is there something I may do differently?' Unless examined, many behaviours that originate from unconscious beliefs may reflect bias and prejudice and go unchecked (1). Furthermore, practising reflection in action (the act of reflecting in the present), helps us to resolve issues in the now, advantageous for modifying behaviour for an improved outcome right there and then.

Mindfulness is a critical attribute. Being mindful is being aware of the present moment of thoughts, feelings, sensations or something beyond the person with an open, curious and accepting attitude. One side effect (not a goal) of mindfulness is that it enhances my ability to be present and aware of the now to assist active reflection.

One of the keys to developing and improving social and personal awareness is education: becoming informed. For example:

* Education about cultural practices helps to increase cultural knowledge by providing an overview of cultural characteristics and issues

* Learning ways to improve communication skills so that we can use them more effectively and appropriately (1)

* Becoming informed about local resources available in the community for diverse groups

* Developing self-awareness so as to be able to recognise areas in oneself that need to be developed

* Learning how to challenge one's own reactions by managing emotions and choosing how to respond, that is, using emotional intelligence (1)

* Developing ways to be aware of stress and how to manage it (1)

* Learning to question rather than make assumptions

* Learning how to reverse negative thoughts and responses will positively affect attitude and behaviour

Working Inclusively

A person's social and cultural beliefs help them to understand and work inclusively with others from different backgrounds with different belief systems. According to the Australian Academy of Wellness Therapies (1), working inclusively involves:

* Being aware that everyone is different and treat all as individuals

* Respecting others' values and beliefs as not all share one's own

* Being aware that individual's views are shaped by their experience and culture. It is important to remember that a particular individual may not adhere to cultural norms and therefore not to apply generalisations but individualise interactions (2) Every individual comes with experience that may be unknown to you (e.g. being mindful in regard to immigrants who are refugees that many have had trauma in their lives)

* Avoid stereotyping

* Challenge one's own belief system opens up ways of doing things differently

* Be aware than even if I do not understand another I may accept their culture and difference

Valuing and Respecting Diversity

In my recent work history I have encountered diversity primarily related to culture, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age. The workplace encourages workers to respect diversity through codes of conduct and diversity-related policies (e.g. equal employment opportunity), providing learning opportunities related to culture.

Demonstrating respect for difference begins with communication, for example, by adapting language to suit individuals, being attentive and employing active listening skills. There are simple things which make a big difference, such as greeting colleagues and being polite.

Other actions that assist in respecting and valuing diversity include not tolerating and actively preventing workplace bullying and discrimination, encouraging staff to contribute their ideas, promoting cultural awareness, respecting others' cultures and points of view, treating others as equals, refraining from assumptions, and providing information in a variety of ways (3).

My work role included inducting new people into the workplace. This included different occupations - nurses, clerks and orderlies. Apart from different levels of knowledge and experience, people also had different cultural backgrounds and English as a second language. The following is a real-life example demonstrating respecting diversity and inclusiveness from my previous workplace.

A newly-employed recently-emigrated nurse from overseas was employed in my workplace. Transitioning into a new culture and workplace increases stress. The difference between our Australian English and her English was noticeable. By avoiding slang, jargon and slowing down our speech we assisted her understanding. When explaining new material comprehension was ensured at each stage. Our health system and the language used in the workplace were very unfamiliar to her. So that she could integrate better we extended the induction period to allow more time for her to familiarise herself with the workplace. Explaining some of our cultural norms helped. For example, our meet and greet' is very different even if the person is above you in status. We use first names in the workplace unlike in her country. She initially found this disconcerting. We explained that it was not disrespectful to use first names. Socially, the nurse did not know anyone in the area so to assist building relationships outside the workplace we arranged for two other nurses from the same country of origin to meet and greet her. These strategies were helpful in facilitating inclusiveness (as revealed by feedback from the individual).


Misunderstandings or difficulties can affect social and cultural diversity but can be minimised. Misunderstandings or difficulties that arise may occur through:

* Underlying cultural and social perceptions/perspectives that cause conflict (1)

* Differences of attitude, values or beliefs

* Poor communication, listening, impatience - judgemental attitude may compound stereotyping

* Not understanding another's language

* Fear of the unknown (of a different culture)

* Finding it difficult to find common ground when political, social and cultural beliefs may be at opposite ends of a spectrum (e.g. taboo topics or conflict management (passive/assertive)) (3).

The latter points can lead to an individual or diverse/cultural group feeling disempowered which may cause ill feeling and discontent and decrease the cohesiveness of a group(3). The result may be diverse groups avoiding each other, hindering the effectiveness of sharing knowledge, skills and experience, thus preventing growth and the effectiveness of teams (3).

There is potentially a negative effect or opposite view arising from working in a workplace where workers do not belong to diverse groups. These workers may feel undervalued and unappreciated because they don't represent diversity (3). They also might believe that employees from diverse groups have more opportunities for advancement, which may impinge on the working relationships they once had with co-workers (3).

Difficulties communicating in English can cause challenges and undermine people's confidence. This may make finding a job or learning at school more difficult, and contribute to social isolation (4).

Both direct discrimination (e.g. name-calling, bullying) and indirect discrimination (e.g. ignoring or excluding others from important events) can leave people feeling shut out and powerless. This can then have a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing(4).

Racism increases people's sense of difference and vulnerability by devaluing their culture and making them feel unwelcome. The effects of racism and discrimination in the workplace can make life more difficult for families, and create undue stress and social disadvantage. Valuing diversity and being inclusive helps promote respectful relationships and reduces the likelihood of discrimination and isolation (4).

Minimising the impact of misunderstanding on social and cultural diversity' can be achieved by (1):

* Recruiting for diversity

* Having a shared set of values, beliefs and norms in the workplace that result in a shared vision all are working towards the same outcome

* Improving communication, listening, not using jargon, and being non-judgemental

* Having an attitude of respect and developing rapport

* Practising reflection

* Holding a belief that others have a right to hold views, which are as important as one's own

* Not making assumptions

* Providing clear understandable information - if need be, through an interpreter

* Making use of cross-cultural learning and reflection

* Building an inclusive work environment that is culturally safe

* Showing an open mind/flexibility towards difference

* Being responsible for helping build a diverse inclusive workplace

Showing support for cultural diversity involves talking with people to find out how best to include them and respect their cultural needs. Valuing and respecting diversity encourages people to accept individual differences amongst individuals and groups. Overall, practice patience and compassion.


An individual's beliefs influence diversity and culture in the workplace. Beliefs are developed during life and are influenced by experience and society. They are dynamic, changing and evolving throughout one's lifespan. Some deeply held beliefs are unconscious. Having awareness of our own belief systems (including political, social and cultural) through reflection, being informed and using mindfulness allows us to behave in a manner that upholds our values.

Awareness of how misunderstandings and difficulties occur in the workplace and awareness of their impact on social and cultural diversity helps us to find ways to minimise these. Role models and leading by example for respecting diversity in the workplace can motivate others to subscribe to the same principles.


(1.) AAOWT. Australasian Academy of Wellness Therapies. Work with Diverse People. Participant Guide. CHCDIV001.2016: Smallprint Australia Pty Ltd.

(2.) Cenfre for Cultural Diversity and Aging. Cultural Diversity. 2016. Available from: accessed 23/10/2016

(3.) IngramD. The Impact of Cultural diversity on Business Communication, 2016. Available from: accessed23/10/2016.

(4.) Department of Health, Australian Government. Cultural Diversity and Children's Wellbeing, 2016. Available from: accessed 23/10/2016.

Robyn Harris

1st year remedial massage student, AAOWT, South Perth, WA
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Author:Harris, Robyn
Publication:Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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