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The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook

An Interview with Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
By Mike Streeter

Click here to read more about the book

April 2013

Dr. Sondra Thiederman has been a contributor to our “Expert Forum” since its inception and her articles are among the most popular and downloaded on our Web site. She recently published a new resource titled, “The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook”. It is a practical and concise guide to the importance of understanding and implementing the key elements of an inclusive and productive organization.

It takes the reader on a path that, “Starts with You”, transitions to “Focusing on Them” and culminates with “Creating an Us.” A simple, effective and powerful approach that brings real clarity to what drives success in diversity and inclusion initiatives. I looked forward to our conversation…

Mike: Dr. Thiederman, I noticed that your new web site and book – The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook – focus on what we have in common as human beings. What made you begin to focus on this topic?

Sondra: I came to it through my work with conscious and unconscious bias. As I researched how biases are reduced, I found considerable material showing that the more Common Ground we identify with others, the more we see that person as an individual rather than as a member of a group. Because we are experiencing them as individuals, we no longer can apply to them an inflexible characteristic that we might have previously assigned to their group. It’s those inflexible characteristics that make up our biases. Obviously, the weaker the belief becomes, the better off we are.

That made me realize that, although we need to continue, of course, to value diversity, we must, simultaneously both cultivate and look for what we have in common.

Mike: Aren’t you afraid that people will misunderstand your point and think that you are arguing that everyone should share the same values and points-of-view?

Sondra: To be honest, I have run into that. I think it happens because for too long we have encountered people who did not value diversity and felt that if you weren’t “like me” there was something wrong with you. Because we’ve heard that so much, we tend to hear it even if it isn’t there.

What I am saying is that we value differences AND build and seek some Common Ground. Think, for example, of your circle of friends - in some ways you are alike and in others you are different. Just because you cultivate the “alikeness,” it does not mean that you don’t, at the same time, honor their difference.

Mike: In what aspects of life are we most apt to discover Common Ground?

Sondra: There are four aspects of the human condition that every single person on the planet shares. These are: 1. a shared desire for social support; 2. the desire for dignity; 3. a hope for physical comfort; 4. a drive to survive. The thing that seduces us into not noticing this commonality is that different demographic groups – different cultures – might manifest these values differently.

For example, the desire for social support is universal – everyone who is emotionally healthy cares to one degree or another about relationships with other human beings. The difference lies in what those relationships look like. Take, for example, the stereotypical 2.3 children American family versus the larger families found in other cultures or a family consisting of same-sex versus different sex partners. The commonality is the desire for family; the difference to be valued is the differing family makeup.

Mike: The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook takes the reader through three stages of moving toward inclusion. Could you highlight those for us?

Sondra: Sure. The book is divided into three parts – Part I is called “Starting with You”; Part II – “Focusing on ‘Them’”; and, Part III – “Creating an ‘US’.”  The idea grew out of my belief that true inclusion can never come about unless we balance these three ways of thinking.

First, we need to look within ourselves to as fully as possible understand what values, what biases, and even what emotions we bring to our relationships with others. That’s what “Starting with You” is all about – it lays the foundation for the other two parts of the journey by guiding the reader through this self-awareness process.

Part II focuses on learning about those whom we tend to think of as a “THEM” – in other words, people whom we perceive to be in some way different from ourselves. The book lays out skills for learning about others, showing respect, and communicating appreciation to employees of all backgrounds.

Part III, drives home the importance of striking a balance between what we have in common and how we differ. It focuses on how we can achieve personal and business success by using our diverse talents and points of view to work toward common goals and shared success. 

Mike: If you were to suggest one way that organizations can create and identify Common Ground in their workplaces, what would that be?

Sondra: More than anything else, organizations need to create opportunities for individuals who are is some way different from each other to work together toward a common goal. Volunteer activities or affinity groups built around similar life situations are just examples of how this might be brought about. When you do this, two things happen.

First, you have a built-in piece of Common Ground – that common goal. That puts you half way there. Second, that contact allows individuals to have conversations, resolve problems, face crises that can’t help but bring out their values, tastes, beliefs, interests for others to see. Once seen, the common connections will come to the surface.

            Mike: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Common Ground?

Sondra: Well, I could go on forever about this topic because I am convinced it is the future of diversity. But there is one thing I’d like to make sure doesn’t slip through the cracks and that’s another benefit of identifying Common Ground. That is, when we begin to see how much we have in common with someone else, we quite simply and naturally come to like them more.

I’m thinking of a study conducted by The Society of Training and Development that addressed this issue head on. The study involved subjects pairing positive or negative adjectives with different groups of people. The researchers found that we tend to pair more positive adjectives with individuals we perceive to be like us than with those whom we perceive to be different.

Admittedly, this finding is unfortunate from a valuing diversity standpoint, but it also is a reality that we must address. By pairing traditional efforts to promote the valuing of diversity with ways to cultivate Common Ground, we can’t help but meet in the middle and achieve more harmonious and productive workplaces.


If you believe the Handbook would help you reach your diversity/inclusion goals, you can obtain copies at Sondra Thiederman's new web site, , or directly from the publisher, ,  where you will find an e-book version and substantial bulk discounts.

We welcome any comments or questions at 619-583-4478 or e-mail us at


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  If we act as if we do not have a bias, our bias begins to fade because not only do we get positive reinforcement, we also begin to interact with people as individuals and see them as individuals. When we see people as individuals, we, by definition see them without bias. -- Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

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