Diversity: Making a world of difference

by Tech. Sgt. Torrie Pettaway
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Equal Opportunity

What do you know about diversity? People tend to think of diversity as simply demographic – a matter of color, gender or age. However, groups can be disparate in many ways. There will always be some irony when talking about diversity. The irony here is that the way people think about diversity is diverse.

People think about diversity in diverse ways. For many, diversity is simply about biological differences; we can easily divide the world into men and women, for example.

Beyond biological differences, however, diversity extends to a whole range of learned social differences that are extensions of cultural norms and values. So, what does it mean to celebrate social and cultural diversity? What it means, in a nutshell, is a willingness to accept that one’s particular set of social and cultural norms is one among many sets. What the celebration of diversity promotes, in turn, is inclusiveness, respect for differences and the ability to value the uniqueness of the individual while continuing to acknowledge that we have not completely eradicated the discrimination and injustices that people who are different experience locally and globally.

While some people have been critical of recent efforts to celebrate diversity, the fact remains that as long as we experience conflict, divisiveness and discrimination, we have to continue to address these concerns. Many people continue to hold prejudices, usually based on preconceived judgments about people who are different from them.

Prejudices, in turn, are often based on social stereotypes where false and exaggerated beliefs are imposed on a person based on their differences. To fully engage others in this century we must shed our negative prejudices and stereotypes. These will only hinder our opportunities for success. Celebrate diversity by focusing on a climate where people feel that their background and lifestyle does not affect perceptions of them as a professional or affect their opportunities for development.

Ask yourself: What views do I have of people who are black, Hispanic American, Asian American, gay or lesbian, people who are from a different socioeconomic level, have a disability, or a psychological disorder or are of a different religion? Try having a conversation with someone who is in one or more of these groups and chances are you have more in common than you may think.

What I’ve noticed is people like to be around other people who are similar to them, share their values, beliefs, upbringing and other characteristics. Yet, each one of us wants to be noticed, to be unique, even when we share many similarities with others. This is a natural tension that exists in our lives: sharing similarities with each other and yet being unique. Understanding and valuing these differences can become a significant part of your ability to get along with others, be successful in your career and have meaningful relationships.

What should diversity mean to you on a daily basis? It could mean that you encourage people who are different from you. It could mean reaching out to those who are different or have different characteristics than you or to initiate a dialogue with them. You might discover that different perspectives contribute to an expanded view of your world.

Creativity, intelligence and strength exist in every individual, not just those who are similar to you. Develop an awareness of other people’s beliefs, values and heritage and be willing to share your own. Your respect for differences means that you recognize when others have differences in lifestyle, gender, points of view, finances, etc. You continue to regard others with dignity, not only tolerating but also affirming their uniqueness, just as you would want others to demonstrate respect for your uniqueness.

The U.S. Air Force is a force working together to accomplish one mission – our freedom. Let’s embrace diversity and stop looking at each other with blurred vision. Together, we can make a world of difference.