Even though we’ve been talking about and recognising the benefits of diversity for decades, a great deal of shallow thinking continues to govern the conversation. Most dialogue centers around gender, ethnicity, and generational differences. Quotas still drive the decisions of many organisations. There is advocacy for work environments to reflect society, insisting minority groups, however defined, be represented at all levels of operation. I find this thinking both confusing and concerning.
There should be no question regarding the benefits of diversity. Having a deep understanding of how to identify and implement it, and how to measure its value, are the questions to be asked.
There are some fundamental principles that govern diversity. Assumption and Bias, Majority-Minority, Us and Them, Power and Privilege, and Inclusion-Exclusion. Respecting individualism while acting and thinking in a non-bias way without assumption is fundamental.
So how do we identify diversity and what are the benefits? Improving what your organisation does, and how it’s done, should be the key benefit, and most recognise diversity of thought as the crucial element. Alternative views. Different ways to consider, approach and resolve issues. Fundamentally, there is more likelihood of choosing the best outcome, on the basis that more alternatives have been considered. Once this is understood, the next question is, what do we measure to ensure the benefits are there?
What we shouldn’t do, is pick a specific characteristic, (let’s say gender) use this as the measure and then assume if we have balanced representation, diversity of thought will be addressed.
Is there evidence that people with different characteristics think differently? Absolutely. There’s clear logic in that. However, equal numbers of males and females doesn’t guarantee diversity of thought. Furthermore, by assuming this, your assessment of each person’s characteristics is fundamentally bias. This is where shallow thinking is concerning. This is why trying to reflect society is flawed.
How can an organisation whose purpose is very specific, perform better if it reflects society when the characteristics of society are so general? The decision of who we choose to work in our organisations and the roles they play, must be based on something. It can’t be random, nor should it be based on a formula or specific number.
Addressing diversity by reflecting society, suggests to me a lack of understanding. For those that don’t have deeper regard, maybe this is the only option. The result? Rather than organisations rising to the top, they will drown in shallow thinking.