In 1992, Mark A. Williams led a diversity workshop for 200 Marriott International managers and employees in Los Angeles. During the event, a young woman who had immigrated recently from India raised her hand and asked, “Why are American blacks still angry about slavery when they have been free for hundreds of years?”
“After a moment of silence,” Williams writes, “the room filled with the sounds of anger, confusion, agreement, and resentment.” Some African-Americans emotionally described the injustices that they had endured. Others produced historical analyses of the impact of oppression. Other participants argued that the focus on diversity was taking the nation in the wrong direction. The workshop dissolved into chaos.
Williams, 43, realized that his old frameworks for cultural understanding couldn’t account for the wide range of beliefs and values on display — both in that room and in workplaces everywhere. From that experience was born a systematic mapping of thought and behavior patterns that, he writes, “were identifiable, predictable, and at the heart of a person’s beliefs and actions with respect to race, ethnicity, nationality, and culture.”
These are “the 10 Lenses.” Williams introduces them in a new book: The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living & Working in a Multicultural World (Capital Books, 2001). They’re also at the heart of his consulting-and-education company, the Diversity Channel.
Williams proposes that through the 10 Lenses, individuals can learn more about their own cultural-belief systems. A better understanding of these systems, and those of others, can help people “build bridges, manage conflict, and find common ground.” It also can help managers communicate with and respond to diverse employees and customers. Once those skills are mastered, Williams even points readers to “an 11th Lens,” which, by combining the best qualities of the other 10 lenses, “can liberate us from the boundaries of those lenses and propel us toward healing ourselves, each other, and our planet.
At the very least, Williams’s framework provides a constructive tool for self-analysis. We’ve summarized the diagnostic test behind the 10 Lenses. Click here to take the test.
Keith Hammonds (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Fast Company senior editor. Learn more about the 10 Lenses on the Web.