HOW FLEXIBLE CAN WE BE? MANAGING DIVERSITY IN A DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL WORK

C. Van Kerckhove

University College Ghent (BELGIUM)
We proceed from the dictum: to cogitate about diversity is to cogitate about identity. The first question we have to answer is: what is the (corporate) identity of the department of Social Work. This answer is twofold.
Firstly, we look for the view of humanity that’s used within the faculty.
a. individual : what we call ‘self-image’, is an ephemeral fusion of several factors: age, gender, social context, culture, religion, the colour of someone’s skin, world view, ... My ‘self-image’ is like a big patchwork
b. social : the social context can affect a citizen’s social identity, both favourably and adversely. A key factor, in that respect, is the socio-economic situation of the individual, which manifests itself in many different ways: housing, healthcare, leisure time, cultural perception, work and job satisfaction, social norms and a coherent set of values, but in education too.
Secondly, we ask people about the faculty’s own identity. This last-mentioned identity is quadripartite:
a. general- : this is a mixter of the Latin and the English model. The Latin vision stresses the universality within which the secular values occupy centre stage. The Anglo-Saxon model stresses the philosophical diversity which is becoming apparent in the public realm, partly based on a recognition of the individuality of (minority) groups.
b. specific- : The specific identity is an ensemble of pedagogical-didactic methods and a rational offering of training facilities.
c. corollary- : Rules ensure, among other things, that our individuality is kept intact. Rules are useless if they are flaunted, which may tarnish our identity.
d. quality identities. This implies that the diversity policy will consist in bridging the gap between the patchwork identity of the entrant (or of the employee) and the entry- and/or exit-level skills.

Once the identity has been defined, we then ponder our policy on diversity. The central question is: How flexible can we be? The answer to this question will mark the way we manage the diversity in our department and will be based on our identity. So the bridge or link between identity and diversity, in essence the diversity management in our department, is the answer to the question how flexible we can be.
The key consideration, here, is a category non-specific approach. This approach to flexibility is explained by means of an example: the diversity policy for students.