The term “dignity of differences” is the title of a book by Jonathan Sacks, a philosopher and theologian who believed that the survival of humanity is dependent on our ability to accord respect and dignity to those who are different from us. Our willingness to respect each other’s differences is the moral foundation upon which civil society is built, though sadly, it seems that our societies have just enough religion to make us hate one another, but not enough to make us love one another – a sentiment expounded by Sacks.
At its core, the field of OD believes that diversity is an intrinsic quality of living systems and, when diversity is embraced and constructively leveraged, it will increase an organisation’s ability to be innovative and creative. A healthy organization is able to leverage diversity for outcomes that help the organisation navigate and respond to complex challenges and opportunities.
Therefore, given that the core value of OD is democracy, equity and fairness, enduring respect for the human within the organisation, and all human beings have the right to attain their potential, it stands to reason that the issues of diversity, inclusion, equality and equity are critically important to run across all our practice in OD.
In essence, diversity is about acknowledging, honouring, and giving dignity to the natural differences that are expressed across the human landscape, seeing those differences as sources of strength and wisdom. Inclusion is the determined and creative intention to reflect and honour that diversity as much as possible, so that every voice is valued and taken seriously. All are welcomed and able to participate, able to access the spectrum of roles and positions. Equality and equity are about levelling any unequal opportunity, paying attention to cumulative advantages and barriers with a view to ensuring fairness across the system. Taken together, this should be a trademark of a competent OD practitioner.
Experienced by clients
Practitioners who are competent with respect to the values and practices of diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity are experienced by clients as a safety net. Clients know that, when an OD practitioner is committed to human dignity, they will be valued as dignified individuals. Clients feel the affirming presence of the OD practitioner who is constantly there, promoting healthy inter-group relationships, calling out behaviour and policy that are contrary to the ethos, and being a role model to show clients what and how to observe, inquire, state the truth, challenge with courage, and, in all they do, afford dignity and value to the people with whom they work, pursuing fairness and valuing every voice. Sensitive to their own biases, these OD practitioners are experienced as exemplars of the values they espouse.
What the competence ‘looks like’
The characteristics and qualities noted below are not intended to be exhaustive or definitive. Nor are they in any particular order. Nor are the distinctions between ‘Knowledge’, ‘Skills/Abilities’ and ‘Character/Attitude’ hard and fast—rather they are heuristic categories with obviously overlapping edges. The intention is merely to provide a frame of reference for considering important elements of the OD Diversity, Inclusion and Equity competence.