Diversity: Boring Bland Stew or Exciting Delicious Salad?

Diversity: is it a melting pot / stew, or a salad / fruit bowl?

Diversity: is it a melting pot / stew, or a salad / fruit bowl?

As a diversity consultant, it is good to stop and look at different core theories around diversity. One core concept to consider is diversity as either a melting pot where different cultures come together and assimilate, or the “salad bowl” or “fruit bowl” where the elements are still together but individual components are identifiable and appreciated.

The dynamics of this dichotomy were starkly evident in early May when a Duke University political science professor made some controversial comments (link) when addressing the recent unrest in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray (link) while in police custody. Professor Hough praised Asians for their “desire for integration” while stating that blacks have these strange new names that symbolize their lack of desire for integration.

Hence we open the discussion of diversity as a melting pot or a salad.

The melting pot theory of diversity propagates a construct of diversity as monoculturalism, where the various groups are assimilated into one culture, often with the minority groups rejected or hiding their differences and unique attributes, to take on the characteristics of the dominant culture.

The salad bowl (or fruit bowl) theory of diversity propagates a theory of pluralism, where differences between cultures are accepted, appreciated, celebrated and even utilized to create something stronger. There is still one entity (a salad) but the individual components (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, etc.) are still distinguishable.

In reality, the melting pot theory of diversity is not a theory of inclusion; it is more about exclusion of unique strengths and attributes.

These theories really do apply to the business world. While I was on the diversity staff at IBM, our diversity slogan was “None of us is as strong as all of us.” Also within the business world, a new emerging diversity subject is “diversity of thought.” (Link to my past blog on emerging diversity topics.) The idea is that companies that honor their employees’ diversity and draw upon their different life experiences come up with better products and stronger solutions to business problems than companies where everyone thinks exactly alike. Within a company, there can still (and needs to) be a unity around corporate goals, but diversity of ideas can be honored and leveraged to best meet company objectives.

Instead of being an “either /or” proposition, the best implementation of diversity is a “both / and” where the unique diverse attributes of each individual are appreciated and all the diverse elements can come together to unite to create a stronger community.

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A resource: VISIONS, Inc.