fractal compliments of Susie of Arabia
Like many large, American organizations, the one I work for recently decided that diversity in the workplace needs to be celebrated. We now attend semi-annual meetings for the purpose of learning to appreciate diversity. Our group is sizable, allowing for five separate sub-groups to meet over a two-week period.
Each group also contains men as well as women, a few blacks, an occasional Hispanic, and perhaps a gay or two, but I wouldn’t know about that; if gays are amongst us, they are not out of the closet. All speak English with an American accent.
At our first meeting, the facilitator handed out colored cartoon drawings of animals: a rabbit, a chameleon and a pit-bull. We were asked to “take a few minutes” and determine which animal characterized our personal style of conflict. The rabbit runs from it, the chameleon pretends to fade into the background, and the pit-bull attacks. None of us needed a few minutes.
We were then asked to sort ourselves into groups—the rabbits on one end of the table, the chameleons on the other end and the pit-bulls in the middle. Then we talked about how a conflict might look when a rabbit encounters a pit-bull or a chameleon, or a pit-bull meets another pit-bull, and so forth.
This is what they call diversity?
I suppose it is a sort of diversity, the kind that is visible, observable in behavior, and predictable in outcome, but it doesn’t approach the kind of diversity that underlies it, the diversity that gives rise to such behavior in the first place.
Ann, sitting on the other end of the table with the rabbits, is dealing with a mom whose Alzheimer’s is getting worse by the week. No wonder she sits with the rabbits.
Kathy, a smiling pit-bull, is working nearly full time while studying nursing full time and raising a daughter without a husband. That kind of stress will bring out the pit-bull in anyone.
Steve, a chameleon, is on the transplant list, though for what organ I do not know. I didn’t catch all of the conversation upon which I was eavesdropping last week. I, too, blend in with the chameleons, and they’ll never know why or to what extent.
Jessica is the only one of us who weighs in excess of three hundred pounds, with two-thirds of it distributed evenly on either side of the great divide. She refrains from joining a group.
I suppose the concept of diversity is flexible. By all standards of definition, I lived more diversity during my years in Riyadh than these people will see in their entire lives.
Three groups of people staffed my section in the Riyadh hospital in which I worked: Westerners, Filipinos and Arabs. By Westerners, I do not mean Americans, I mean people who came from English speaking countries. By Arabs, I mean people who came from Arabic speaking countries, and there were many of them.
The official language of the workplace was English, but that didn’t mean we didn’t listen to various Arab dialects, Tagalog, or English inflected with accents so thick that newcomers had difficulty understanding each other. Language, however, proved the least of our challenges.
When Noura, a Saudi university student, came to us for training, some of us wondered how we were going to work with a woman who not only covered her head in black, but half her face as well.
There was Ibrahim, a Saudi man, who called in sick too often, but knew every theory and principle behind every procedure in the book.
The assorted Arabs thought they need not report to work promptly at 0700 every morning. It took more than a year to impress upon them that punctuality was more than a quirky American character trait.
The Filipinos worked like donkeys, never called in sick, always responded pleasantly to tasks at hand, but were most resistant to observing the English-only guidelines of the section. Non-Filipinos would complain about having to listen to Tagalog, secretly suspicious that the Filipinos were talking about them behind their backs.
The Westerners did not refrain from talking openly about their latest escapades into the forbidden fruit of social mixing.
Then we had the great religious divide, the Muslim/non-Muslim dichotomy. On the non-Muslim side, only Christianity existed, because Jews were not allowed in the Kingdom; Hindus and Buddhists were not even acknowledged. As for Christians, the various denominations lost all significance whatsoever. This dichotomy did not run parallel to the national dichotomy, as some Arabs were Christians, and some Westerners were Muslims.
None of us needed diversity sessions.