The Sport of Diversity

Cross country skiing sport_028

Implementing a diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative is a lot like cross-country skiing; it’s important to find the right balance so all the elements are working together to get optimal results.

It has been a harsh winter here in Ontario. With a record number of days at -20C, 40 per cent more snow than normal and more than 70 days in a row with snow on the ground. The Toronto Star says this is the coldest, most miserable winter in almost 40 years. It has been so bad that the phrase polar vortex is now part of the lexicon and it seems the first unwritten item on the agenda of every meeting is the weather.

I believe the only way to survive winter is to play in it and this is where cross-country skiing comes in.

Writer Dave Barry once said skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking trees down with your face. I, however, experience moments of exhilaration followed by seconds of sheer terror as I try to maintain my balance.

D&I programs will also have their moments of success, even joy, when everything goes well but there will be times when tensions surface as managers try to fulfill the many interests of a diverse workplace.

Cross-country skiing offers similar challenges because it is one of the most demanding winter sports. However, when done well, it is among the most beautiful and graceful.

Imagine:  Skiing under a sky as blue as a Robin’s egg contrasted against white snow. The cold air so brittle you can almost feel it snap with every movement, every glide, every thrust of your arms and every kick of your legs. The “tik-tik-tik” as the poles hit the snow-covered ground. The “swosh-swosh-swosh” as the skis glide along the tracks.

workplace diversity_nowMuch like classic cross-country skiing, an effective D&I program requires planning and preparation for what’s ahead; adjusting to the changing conditions of the snow or deciding when to use long open strides or shorter ones to make it up a slight incline.

Too many organizations fail to adjust their D&I plans to meet internal changes until it’s too late. It is much better to watch for trends, rather than responding to the “now.”

The most effective D&I programs are those that anticipate as well as respond to the varying needs of the workplace and key stakeholders such as clients or customers.

Fridtjof Nansen, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping displaced victims of  WW I, and was also a champion skier once said: “You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”

The same could be said about valuing the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of everyone to create inclusive and productive workplaces.

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