I want to talk to you about diversity…

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been active here and it was time to pick it up again. Let’s talk about diversity *everyone sighs uncomfortably and looks for the back button* – NO NO WAIT! Diversity isn’t what you may think it means. Let’s talk about what else it can mean and why it’s a big deal.

When we think of building diversity, we most often jump to needing people to look different. Oh, there’s that “race” card. While I don’t deny that different races and having a group look different is indeed a form of diversity, it does not end there. Let’s see what the Google has to say about diversity:

di·ver·si·ty
dəˈvərsədē,dīˈvərsədē/
noun
  1. the state of being diverse; variety.
    “there was considerable diversity in the style of the reports”

Well what do you know…nothing about race. It’s all about difference which can include but is not limited to race (or gender or well, anything). Hear me out here…

A good friend of mine says he has a diverse team. One man is Indian, a woman is a lesbian, another woman is white, and he is a white male (the leader of the team) – they all are about the same age as well. “See, he says, my team is equally gender diverse and has racial diversity.” While YES the team looks diverse, what you don’t see is that most of these people have worked together at one time or another. He built this team with people he knew he could work with, presumably because they have similar views about things like, well, Agile to start. Now, I’m not saying this is wrong, but often we are led into this way of thinking. My team LOOKS diverse so it must be. Or more often, to make my team more diverse people need to LOOK radically different. In a way, isn’t this putting more of an emphasis on race and gender AS the thing that defines people? Is that really what we want to do?

Alright, Natalie, you’re a white woman (who likes the write in third person, apparently) so what can you possibly know about any of it? Well, most of you know about my #WomenInAgile support, and yes, that centers around gender (register for our event at Agile2017 here). Because at a high level, what we can see is often where we have to start. It’s easier then to see the change. But when we get there, or when we’re in the process, that’s when we need to inspect if we’re being diverse in ideas among other things. Let me give another example…

A leadership team I worked with was having issues. Yes they all looked mainly the same – mostly older white guys and one younger white woman. The leader of this group (the oldest whitest guy) brought in a woman he used to work with to help “get shit done.” So great – there’s another woman! The team is more diverse! But is it? They used to work together at a large company that is notoriously command and control. They have similar experiences. They work together well. Is the addition of that woman really bringing in new ideas or just another voice supporting what the leader wants? Could we go so far as to say that bringing her in is hindering their diversity and contributing to a leadership “group think” or “conformity” of group norms?

So yes, while diversity has many facets and making a diverse team who works together well is not easy, let’s make sure we’re not looking at teams with blinders on. If my team LOOKS diverse but thinks the same way, are they really the most effective? If my team looks the same but THINKS differently, that’s not bad either. So let’s not interview to meet racial or gender quotas, but let’s understand how people think and build our teams that way. They will look diverse as we get the diverse ideas and effective outcomes are really what we’re looking for in the end.

03. May 2017 by Natalie Warnert
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