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Tolerance vs Acceptance vs Embrace

By Dr. Ted Sun

Recently featured in Forbes

Conflicts within and between employee resources groups (ERGs) are common in today’s organizations. As part of the diversity & inclusion initiatives, the strategy to create employee resource groups is commonly practiced. Groups are often created based on a single demographic characteristic, such as gender, race, sexual preference, etc. While these groups are meant to create a sense of belonging for minority groups, what happens when conflict occurs within the group or between the groups?

Creating ERGs is only a starting point as part of the diversity & inclusion initiatives. It gives people an opportunity to have a voice and to be seen. An ERG is like a spark that ignites the fire inside so many people. Now that the fire has been started, how would you channel its energies?

Clarity of vision, purpose and numerous collaboration skills has to be the foundation. Like any team formation, it takes ample leadership and development of the team members to make it efficient and collaborative. Without careful attention to these details, grouping people together can often lead to unintended conflicts. That’s the last outcome that organizations need in a world filled with complexity, uncertainty, and anxiety.


Let’s start by looking at one of the common flaws in organizational values. Unfortunately, the value of tolerance has crept into many organizational values. Critically explore the concept of tolerance!  When you see someone who may be different in some way, how do you feel when you simply tolerate that person? Do you really want someone to only tolerate your presence?

Within diversity & inclusion initiatives, organizations seek to create positive relationships between people. Practicing tolerance is to let that fire burn as an observer.  That fire can eventually burn, as we have seen with many conflicts within organizations. So why are so many organizations using tolerance when speaking to diversity?


Many leaders and diversity training courses use the term acceptance. While it creates a better emotional connotation to accept someone who may be different, it still does not bring people together to form solid relationships. Accepting someone different remains to be a surface-level action. What if we focused on accepting the differences between people and also sought out similarities?


To create empowering and collaborative relationships amongst diverse employees, focusing on embracing others is a strategic choice for leaders. Embracing each other requires people to see differences but also find similarities to create solid relationships. To embrace another requires an appreciation of one’s differences while taking the time to seek understanding. With these strategic actions, leaders can harness the power from these ERG fires to be an engine of innovation. Developing skills of embracing others propels organizations forward towards their goals. This is a requirement for ERGs to be productive.

Applying a Universal Rule

One of the common universal rules is you get what you focus on! Diversity & inclusion initiatives in many organizations have great intentions. The leadership thought behind how to get there has to go beyond surface-level actions like creating ESGs.  The success of diversity & inclusion initiatives should be measured by the abundance of profound relationships (trust and respect) along with innovations they create. Providing a positive focus for employees is more crucial than ever in an ongoing pandemic environment. Choosing to focus on embracing each other proactively requires leadership actions at all levels. This is just one of many dimensions within a successful diversity & inclusion strategy.

Don’t let your ERGs burn much-needed relationships within your organization. Learn to harness the power of ERGs towards innovation!

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