On my mind this week.
I’ve been thinking about the nature of diversity.
It’s one of those words that suddenly become de rigeur, enters the lexicon of items to be included on checklists, and non-debatable. To question it is to commit heresy. It goes along with others, such as “vulnerable”, “conscious”, that carry tremendous power but are dangerous if used carelessly.
Antonyms of diversity include uniformity, agreement, standardisation and stability – all staples of processes and efficiency. It gets even more complicated when we see diversity as a suitable collection of other underexamined labels, for example, gender, ethnicity and others that are clearly visible but pay less attention to those that are not, such as intent, mindset, or family circumstances. It is easy to create boxes that are easy to tick, so we can say “job done”. But, unfortunately, it quickly becomes a form of “culture wash” in the same ways as companies practice “greenwash” to mask continuing environmental malpractice.
At what point, I wonder, does the initial diversity filter become clogged by other routines inside the organisation designed to achieve those antonyms of diversity necessary to short term performance – standardisation and stability?
At what level do we measure diversity – at the individual level or group level? As power moves from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, the diversity of networks – and constructively managing that diversity seems more critical and complex than measuring at the individual level. Unified small groups challenging each other in pursuit of common purpose. Messier than conformity, but probably far more generative.
At the moment, I am part of a number of different small networks that share a common purpose but not common goals. Individual goals are just that – they are set in the context of personal circumstance and aspiration, but each member of the network holds the other accountable to the purpose we share. It would, of course, be a nightmare for an organisation focused on short term narrow targets like profit but is, I suspect, more effective when it comes to values. Values can be a real nuisance when it comes to short term profit goals set by others.
At many levels, the individual groups are not diverse. They are predominantly white (though from different cultures), male or female( not by choice but initial circumstance), and middle-aged. On the other hand, the conversations are vibrant, challenging, very aware of the lack of diversity and what to do about it – diversity as a feature of organic growth, not token tick-box compliance.
However, the diversity of groups is different – the differences in background, interest, culture, and practice are significantly different, and that too is increasing.
Diversity is, I suspect, more like a quality issue – something achieved through practice and improvement more than initial specification.
Standardisation and diversity are both critical to what we do. Like other “token” labels, we need to understand them and make each come alive to have the effect we want, not just be labels we use to show token compliance.
McDiversity is easy, but genuine, vibrant diversity is as challenging as it is productive, which is why enabling it is a key role in leadership.
Podcasts that have inspired me this week.
Andy Middleton on the Do lectures podcast. 20 minutes of smiles and inspiration. Ambition tempered with humour and humility.
George the Poet. I’ve mentioned these before, so forgive repetition but I think they are important as examples of how podcasts can reach out to effect change.
Articles I’ve appreciated.
Why is it so hard to be rational? From the New Yorker. it is too easy for what passes to be thinking is merely a rearrangement of prejudices to support our worldview. A 3 minute read worth reading.
You are a network. From Aeon magazine. Networks are not just things “out there”, we are a network. You cannot be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role. An emerging theory of selfhood gets this complexity.
Hannah Arendt on why understanding is difficult. This seventy minute interview is not the easiest, which is why it is, in my view, so important if we really want to understand diversity.
A parting thought.
We are being presented with many things that concern us, from climate change to inequality, and we cannot focus on them all. We would do well to pick the one that matters most to us and work on it, in the knowledge that others will do the same for themselves, Between us, we can address the whole.