Most organisations now have 'diversity' properly embedded into them. You might have noticed ethnicity or disability 'tick-boxes' as standard on application forms, and 'diversity training' as part of induction and leadership programmes. While the progress that's been made in recent years in treating people equally is to be applauded, I find myself regularly advocating a more radical approach. The traditional approach teaches 'we're all the same on the inside'. But what about those things that are hidden? What about when people are different on the INSIDE?
[The egg picture is a reference to a diversity poster that shows eggs with different colour shells with the caption 'we're all the same on the inside'. I keep chickens and know that yolk colour & size varies hugely depending on the breed of chicken as well as their diet.]
I started my career on the Civil Service Fast-Stream. A highly prestigious graduate training programme that selects the brightest and the best, and makes huge efforts to encourage and support applications from those from minority ethnic backgrounds and with disabilities. Yet when my husband met the other successful candidates his comment was 'they're all the same as you'! In an effort to be 'blind' to external differences rigorous aptitude and psychometric testing had ensured that the cohort were all pretty much the same on the inside. In the way that we processed information, related to the world around us, and took command of situations - we were all very similar.
The brilliant book 'Wisdom of crowds' powerfully makes the case for the value of diversity in teams; pointing to the creativity and potential of a group that is genuinely diverse. Yet it is human nature to select those most like ourselves as collaborators. In selecting staff we often choose people in our own likeness - maybe not in the physical / overt characteristics, but very often we prefer those whose minds work in the same way as our own.
In my 'Effective Leader' training, I ask delegates to complete a learning styles survey - and draw out the different types of people in the room. I explain how different learning preferences affect how individuals communicate and receive information, and how misunderstandings of these hidden differences can cause conflict within teams. Understanding these differences unlocks huge potential and opportunity for organisations.
Partly my zealous drive towards a reworked definition of diversity comes from my own personal experience. I am partially deaf (the legacy of meningitis) - and am often frustrated by the disbelieving looks I get when I use my 'disability' railcard. My husband is dyslexic, and has spent too much time fighting systems that put barriers in the way for him, without recognising that it's because his brain works in such a different way that he is so great at his job.
Rather than have a template of 'normal' with a set of arbitrary boxes to tick to indicate difference, I would love to move to place where every individual is celebrated for their unique contribution, and adaptions are made wherever appropriate to allow people to succeed. We should each be able to proudly share our own personal story, and listen to those of others. (As I write I am planning some diversity training that teaches this more radical approach based on the storytelling for leadership models... possibly featuring the Mr. Men!)