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By Executive Edge

Q: How do you encourage diversity in the workplace? By diversity, I don't mean different ethnic backgrounds. I want to know how to get everyone to contribute their own unique skills and talents to the continuous improvement of the process and the product?

A: I know you don't mean ethnic diversity, but it's a good place to start. Remember those games you used to play in elementary school, when everyone was asked to dress in their ancestral clothes and tell the class about their ethnic backgrounds, the foods they ate, the holidays they celebrated? This exercise gives everyone an opportunity to be proud of their heritage and provides a way for people to get to know each other better. When we brought a professional diversity consultant into our office, it was the first thing he had us do. Boy, did we learn about the people with whom we work. And, the openness it created continues today.

But, that was only the first step. The consultant then moved into the area of personal skills. Everyone was asked to come up with something they were good at. If the task proved difficult, there were several prompting techniques: What don't people know about you? What was your latest or greatest accomplishment? Do you have a hobby? Describe a time when you felt really successful.

This kind of exchange is best conducted in small groups. After people have discussed their different talents, applauded each other, and laughed together, they will be much more willing to work together.

Now, it is up to the team leader or supervisor to make sure this climate continues to be encouraged. Give people lots of chances to shine. Then they will be more willing to volunteer whenever they think they can contribute. But remember, you've got to create the environment.

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