Four steps to diversity: A mother’s challenge

An Indian Bride

Photo by Mukesh-Mohanty from

A colleague of mine told me that she knew an Indian mother whose son married a girl from a different faith. In many cultures, but especially in the South African context, this can be a major crisis for families and friends.

The mother was asked what she was going to do about her new daughter-in-law. She responded: ‘She is everything a mother would want for her son. The only difference is that she prays differently from us. And I will just learn how to pray like that.’

This mother’s response is a lesson for us all at home and at work. I hear four calls to action:

  1. Focus on what we have in common
    Our families matter, our businesses matter, our goals matter. These are the things that draw us together and keep us on the same side. Talk about them often. Discuss the vision of the organisation, the goals of your department, the plans for the team. As we talk and listen to each other, we begin to discover that we share the same goals, dreams and determination.
  2. Harness our differences
    Our differences mean that we approach challenges, opportunities, customers and everything else from a different perspective with a different set of questions. We see different sides of the issue. Together we are so much stronger and more versatile. Understand and begin to trust each other’s strengths.
  3. Learn from each other
    South Africans who refuse to recognise the hurt and humiliation caused by words or jokes they have grown up with, should be confronted for the bullies they are.
    This mother said, ‘I will just learn how to pray like that.’ If what I do hurts you, I must stop doing it. If I can learn a more effective way of engaging with you without compromising my core values and beliefs, I must do so.
  4. Examine core values and beliefs
    We must also examine what we call our core values and beliefs. Over time ‘the way we do things’, whether at work or in our faith structures, often becomes mistaken for core values.
    Many years ago, I was being examined for acceptance as a Methodist Minister. One elderly gentleman was horrified to hear that I played the guitar, and he ranted against this ‘instrument of the devil’. A colleague responded, ‘It’s alright. We have converted the guitar.’

Some of our beliefs about our business, our family and even our faith — the ways we interact and the things we reject — need to be challenged. If they stand the test, they are core values. If not, relax, embrace diversity and enjoy the ride.

What else can we learn? Do you have a similar story? Share in the comments below.

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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