Updated: Jan 22, 2020
There are more and more calls for diversity in articles motivated by the need for innovation, engagement, and team-building. The HBR just this month (April 2016, We’re Making The Wrong Case for Diversity in Silicon Valley, Todd L. Pittinsky) offers an interesting take in questioning the highly vocalised linkage between diversity and innovation, asking why in Silicon Valley, where diversity is supposedly limited, innovation is the menu of the day? Mr. Pittinsky advocates the case for an alternative route which research is starting to suggest comes through positive (and not just tolerent) attitudes towards other groups.
But there is one area where we are not sufficiently shining the spotlight in the search to understand the importance of diversity and that’s in answering the question : what’s in it for me ?
Apart from the important impacts of inclusion on the collective good, shouldn't we think for a moment about how embracing diversity also allows each of us the freedom to change ?
Why diversity is good for me
Life is a series of contrasts and experiences that help us to grow. Recognising and accepting difference in others also gives each of us the opportunity to investigate those contrasts, to try new behaviours or experiences which might also help us to find new avenues. If I am subject to restricted social norms or I cling to my identity then I am potentially missing out on those opportunities.
Its also about tolerence. What I can accept naturally (or learn to accept) in others, provides me the the freedom to adopt and express in my own personality. I can see that I have many facets to my personality that I would like others to see and accept too.
Ultimately, when we are recognising our own diversity of skills, needs, and characteristics, we can easily see a linkage to self-compassion and self-acceptance. If I ignore a part of my personality that I don’t allow to express or accept because of social norms about being a woman, for example, its clear to see how I’ll lose out in the long run. Recognising that each part of me has a right and an equal need to exist and grow, rather than just letting one side dominate, through fear or simply not taking the time to understand other aspects, leaves them dormant and me open to inbalance. Widening this self-acceptance is a good step on the path to building authenticity.
So what about me as a leader ?
Diversity started out as a call for the respect of different races, genders, ages, but has blossomed into a more granular question. Its about respecting everyones uniqueness. Of course our contribution as part of a team, family or community is precious because of our unique perspective and ideas. That’s just common sense. Its more than that. Diveristy is therefore about the leadership quality that everyone has, but can keep cultivating, which is growing and adapting to change. The less I put myself in a box or label, the more possibilities I have to experiment that growth and work on those resistances that I have when I see differences that I'm not initially drawn to. So its not just a topic about kindness and respect for others. Its about what’s holding me back.
Silicon Valley happens to be full of great opportunists. If I take on an « if this doesn’t work, then I’ll try that » attitude, I give myself that very same freedom to grow or experience something different from one day to the next. To walk in someone else’s shoes or make an upgraded version of my own variety of shoes. I can test new things and hopefully I don’t punish myself if they don’t work out for me. I’m also in an ecosystem that supports that change and growth to happen in me and I can accept others are doing the same : See differences, learn from that, update my mental map, and remain open to the new. Recognising diversity in everything around us can be a starting point to help us do that.
Differences are not good or bad, they just are. I can choose to embrace them or reject them. When I embrace them I can see new possibilities and if I can bridge where I am today to achieving that new possibility then I grow, I create, I innovate.
The way ahead?
Whilst ever we are addressing diversity in terms of other ‘groups’ and trying to look at it through statistics we’re missing the real, fundamental point. Yes, positively engaging with and being accepting of another ‘group’ is a step in the right direction towards tolerence, and yes, where the barriers based on prejudice exist they should be addressed. But just the very act of boxing things narrows our perspective and is a limiting action, on the other person and also on what I can potentially discover or accept in the richness of myself. So what will each of us choose : to view life as a prison or through a prism?
Whilst ever we are addressing diversity in terms of other ‘groups’ and trying to look at it through statistics we’re missing the real, fundamental point