Getting Diversity Right – It’s not just about the numbers

So often, the focus of ‘getting diversity right’ is about the numbers. Yet, we often forget that it’s not just the numbers which matter – it’s the interaction, collaboration and capacity to engage and achieve results among people from diverse backgrounds which matters.

Ian Dalton, Kirrilee Hughes and I at our session

I presented a session yesterday at the Australian International Education Conference, and was fortunate to attend another session on ‘Internationalising the Curriculum’. The conversation was vibrant, and highlighted the risk of just focusing on ‘the numbers’ to demonstrate internationalisation. It’s all too common to have huge numbers of international students from all over the world attending Australian universities, who can complete an entire degree with little or no interaction with fellow local students. The challenge with an internationally diverse group is to ensure we don’t end up with a ‘classroom of tribes’ where the Indian students sit together, the locals from the private school who know each other sit together, the Chinese from Hong Kong are at another table and also separate from the Mainland Chinese, with little or no interaction between groups. In such an ‘international’ classroom, global mobility does little to expand intercultural engagement or understanding, and can actually reinforce stereotypes of other groups.

One of the key challenges of getting diversity right, is to enable and facilitate the expansion of interactions beyond one’s own comfort zone and in-group. It’s not enough to simply reach ‘the numbers’ and assume internationalisation has therefore occurred. Intercultural learning, collaboration and engagement is a process of learning, reflection and challenging of stereotypes and assumptions. Intercultural capability requires the capacity to engage with others, to understand their world-view and perspective, and to demonstrate the behavioural flexibility to negotiate differences and find common-ground. These skills are the ones which make the difference whether working in international business, or with people from diverse backgrounds at home.

About the Author:

Tamerlaine Beasley is an expert who enables effective collaboration and communication in diverse and global workplaces.She is a member of the Board of the Australia-ASEAN Council for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and founder and Managing Director of Beasley Intercultural, Australia’s premier cross-cultural training and consultancy company.Tamerlaine’s keynote presentations, advisory services and training programs are described by clients as ‘transformational’ and ‘game changing’. Examples of her work include: coaching and advising business leaders in Australia and Asia; working with global teams to optimise performance; developing a framework for training and capability building through international partnerships for APEC; building local staff capacity at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; leading the development of diversity and inclusion programs for the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Defence.