Changing our Spectacles

Written by Fareeha Usman, EDI Innovation Manager, Dynamo North East

Recruiting people from ethnically diverse communities, providing them with equal opportunity to grow and develop, and further retaining them can be difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to understanding the unique cultures and backgrounds they come from. We have talked about trainings, resources, improved HR systems but do we really want to adapt and implement the change we are talking about? Diverse and successful organisations do not only talk the talk, but they also walk the walk and as change enablers it is our motto to demonstrate and live the positive change we want to see in the world.

The Frame of Reference – a term that is usually used for the corporate world in the marketing department, while brand positioning and reaching out to the customers is not only limited to that perspective. The Frame of Reference is defined as a set of ideas and assumptions, and it determines how something, or someone is approached and understood. In psychology, the frame of reference is defined as the structure of associated responses which provide the individual with an overall perceptual and conceptual meaning that is used to define the self, other people, and the world. What this means is that the ways we all make sense of the world, of the people, and ourselves, including our feelings, beliefs, and our behaviours are unique to each one of us and shaped by our past experiences and beliefs. The list of factors can include, culture, race, gender, sexuality, achievements, etc. We all see the world in our own way, we judge people, experiences, and behaviours according to the factors that are in our frames of reference. The frame of reference is the decision-maker’s conception of the act, outcomes, and contingencies associated with a particular choice. The factors in our frame of reference include our individual filter on reality and everyone’s frame of reference can be influenced by a range of factors keeping in mind their upbringing and experience which include family situation, education, culture, and life experience. It is our window of the way we view our world and those around us.

Sometimes, we think the way we see the world is also the way other people perceive it, but that is usually not the case. It is like wearing pink spectacles and assuming that the world has a pink outlook and everyone else sees it too. But again, that doesn’t mean we are stuck with pink spectacles forever, it is possible to change our spectacles and after some introspection we should change our spectacles when necessary. Along with that, we must realise the importance of understanding other people’s frames. Because the moment we understand that we will be able to reach out to them in a better way and have improved conversations without judgment. We must loosen and challenge our filters so that alternatives can be considered, giving us newer ways of looking at things and creating new possible meanings. If we seek to understand people’s frames of reference, then we may also see how to change their frame and help them if needed because if you can change their frames, you can change their world. This reframing can also be called looking at things differently. Knowing which factors to keep in our frame of reference can impact our attitudes and beliefs. Our frame of reference can limit us or help us in non-judgmental listening. So we must be mindful yet understanding how each of our perceptions is shaped.

Talking about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion while keeping the Frame of Reference in mind, another way to assess, improve and change how EDI is managed at our workplaces we can also use the Intercultural Development Continuum. Our organisations, whether small or big have the responsibility to be the examples of positive change in the society since we draw human resource from it. Ranging from monocultural to intercultural this continuum has five stages which include Denial, Polarization, Minimization, Acceptance, and Adaptation, defined as the following.

  • Denial: Little recognition of more complex cultural differences
  • Polarisation: Judgmental orientation; “us” vs. “them”
  • Minimisation: Highlights cultural commonality that can mask deeper recognition of cultural differences
  • Acceptance: Recognises cultural commonality & difference in own & other cultures
  • Adaptation: Able to shift cultural perspective & adapt behaviour to cultural context


With the help of this continuum, we can take ourselves and those around us from the “Denial” stage which consists of limited understanding of cultural differences and beliefs up to the “Acceptance” or “Adaptation” stage that appreciates and understand differences because when such a mindset is present at the workplaces, people from diverse and ethnic backgrounds will be able to feel “valued and involved”. But it can only happen when we as leaders have a strong focus on learning and accountability to reduce the gap between talking and doing. I will leave you all with one thought, “Change must not only be talked about, it must be practiced from within and without”.

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