Diversity: Let’s think about Fairness…differently – Part 1


All…people ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as is in my power, they, and all others, shall have” – Abraham Lincoln

When one looks at it, the term ‘fairness’ has been at the epicentre of some of the world’s key historical moments that span through the decades to the present day. Defined as ’the quality of being equitable or just’, a core issue fairness has to deal with is the apparent limitation of human experience to adequately ‘dispense’ fairness to others. This is not to suggest that we are unable or incompetent to be real ‘dispensers’ of fairness. It is rather to recognise that given the complexities of ‘difference’ and ‘sameness’ that are played out in the reality of each individual, being able to positively manage difference is an indispensable quality for adequately ‘dispensing’ fairness.

Positively managing difference is not rocket science. It is simply about recognising individuality. It means being capable and being predisposed to understanding people’s similarities as well as their differences as a matter of normalcy. A bit like holding a coin and recognising that though it has two different sides, it is still one and the same coin.

But it is also important to mention that fairness is not just an idea. It is a living idea – one that requires a human agent – you, me, us – to breathe life into it, for it to become a reality – in action. The movement of fairness from an idea to reality is driven, some thinkers argue, by a deep ethical sense or drive we all have by virtue of our shared-linkage as human beings that inevitably find themselves inexplicably connected and drawn to other human beings. Jean-Paul Sartre, a 20th century French Existentialist philosopher referred to this situation as the call to ‘Otherness’ – and by it he simply referred to the reality of each human existent being ‘caught up’, as it were, in the existence of others, a reality through which each truly finds their fulfilment or calling as a bona fide human being. In this sense, the ‘dispensing’ of fairness is in fact a ‘Vocation’, a word derived from the Latin, ‘Vocare’ meaning ‘to call’.  This is why we often get an instinctive prick of conscience in situations when we know we may not have been as fair as we ought. It is very logical to suggest that there is undeniably a deep ethical imperative connected with the idea of fairness that directly impacts us all… 

What does this mean in the people and organisational context then? It means that good ethical practices, equals good business. It means that fundamental to promoting people performance in organisations is the underlying and indispensable need to initially embed a culture of respect, openness and altruism. It also means that where these are conspicuously absent, it can have a devastating impact on not just the psychological disposition and culture of an organisation’s workforce, but can have a corresponding negative impact on performance and by direct implication, its competitive advantage and bottom-line financial deliverables. Proactively promoting fairness in business therefore, is the first ground rule or maxim of business success!

The thoughts expressed above are in fact reflected in a recent article by Christine Chesworth in the Evening Standard. Christine reported that at an international conference of CEO’s from across the world last week, all expressed that their strategic priority for the immediate future is the attraction, recruitment, and importantly, the retention of talent with bucket loads of self-awareness and soft skills needed to initiate cultural change in their respective organisations, ensuring a shift from being overtly finance-driven to adopting ‘non-financial’ values, values which nonetheless were recognised as being the key to greater financial outputs. Indeed, the drive for this change in focus, it was reported, was to re-build ‘the human element’ that was lost specifically during the pre and post period of the global financial crisis – which when one thinks of it, had fairness issues at its very core.

Let’s think about fairness differently then. Fairness is about connecting…with the ‘softer’ side of our professional selves. And it is about utilising that connection as a key source of driving enduring organisational change and improvements – leading to greater financial outputs. This is what Abraham Lincoln meant in the opening quote above – and he consequently was not only able to work with his worst antagonists to end the 1861 American Civil War, but importantly, was able to work with them to put forward The Thirteenth Amendment which changed the course of human history as it effectively ended all forms of slavery & servitude – one of the world’s worst historical ills.

How is diversity related to fairness you ask? – through recognising that it is actually ok to acknowledge that we are all in fact different – and that this difference is beautiful and is the source of all creativity and idea-generation in organisations. The call to all ‘human agents’ then is to use this new understanding – within the workplace context – to ensure we operate people processes and practices that assist us positively manage these differences toward fair, just, equitable and sustainable ends.

NB: This is part 1 of a 3 part discursive series. Keep an eye out for the next 2 covering ‘inclusivity’ and ‘transparency’.

Jude-Martin is Director of Diversity is…a consultancy focused on providing a fresh and innovative approach to diversity through the provision of HR services covering Strategy, Assessment, and Development for ensuring effective people management in the 21st century global business context.

For more information contact Jude at: www.diversity-is.com or  judemartin1st@yahoo.co.uk or call through on +44(0)7738427180

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Diversity: Let’s think about Fairness…differently – Part 1

  1. Great Post, Jude – looking forward to the next ones

  2. Linda McPharlin

    Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom and inspiration Jude-Martin! A few days ago, my niece posed the question, “Why can’t we focus on what we have in common rather than our differences?” My instant response was to tell her that we can do this, but it is a skill to be learned. Further, it is a skill to learn to appreciate our differences for the gifts that they are.

    When she asked this question, there was a hopeless tone in her words, and I understood it well as sometimes the issue of inequality seems insurmountable due to the variety of categories we can separate ourselves into and the way we have learned to compare and compete with the “other”. However, I think we can learn the skill and develop a habit of appreciating differences, and I wonder if our habit of noticing differences in each other now may some day prove to be helpful if we can learn to see difference in a different light.

    I appreciate your inspirational message! Looking forward to more!
    Linda

    • Hi Linda,

      A very interesting response – thank you very much for it.

      I think the question posed by your niece is a very interesing one – and I think you are absolutely right to suggest that actually noticing differences now, can positively impact us so that we begin to see difference – differently. Indeed, focusing on our commonalities, if not done well, can itself be problematic!

      I think this will be a journey for all of us, and having the conversation now will assist us become even better at what we do professionally.

      Kind regards

      Jude-Martin

  3. George Rico

    Mr. Etuka,

    Over the last 20+ years, I have been a voracious reader and student of issues related to Workplace Diversity and found your piece to be one of the most eloquent and thoughtful.
    Though we have made progress on this critical front of inclusivity in the workplace, it would appear that we have hit a plateau from which we have not move on to a higher ground.

    I look forward to your future posts on this topic and hope the public discourse on this matter gets the spotlight it deserves.
    Best regards

    • Dear George,

      Many thanks for kind remarks.

      I do think you are absolutely right that we may have hit a plateau as far as developing creative approaches to implementing inclusivity is concerned.

      I do however strongly believe that discussions like these can only help bring these thoughts back into the public domain so we can proactively move these issues forward.

      With thanks

      Jude-Martin

  4. Aimee M.

    What a great article! Focus on commoniality rather than arguing over differences is definatly the best approach. I really like the part about acknowledging our differences and learning from one another about the differences between us. Really great article on how more people should view the World! Diversity really is a beautiful thing.

  5. Chris Peters

    This is a very good post. I feel that many people today have too much of an ecocentric mindset. As humans we are all tought to react and behave a certain way, and are actions will usually get the same reactions from the people inside are culture. But as the world becomes more diverse, actions and reactions change, and people are often left feeling that they have been treated unfair. This often results in steriotypes and racism being formed. In my opion people look at others too much to define their own happiness. Many people feel they are not treated fairly unless they are treated in the same manner as others, theirfore people often thing others should act the way they do.

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