Tag Archives: diversity

Diversity Works

diversity

Diversity works. I know this from personal experience, I’ve always sought to hire people from a range of backgrounds. I know I don’t have all the skills needed in my team so there’s no point hiring more of me. To be specific I’m not great at fine detail; I can go through massive ugly spreadsheets but it’s not my strength. I hire people into my team who have those skills and I value them – partly because I admire the skills and partly because I’m so grateful. In addition for me it’s more fun to hear about Romanian culture, Spanish idioms and Turkish cuisine over lunch than all Dutch stories.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. McKinsey’s research reports a “diversity dividend” of 15% for companies that are gender diverse, and a rocking 35% for companies with ethnic diversity. Correlation does not equate to causation; it may be that high performing companies choose diverse workforces and executive teams rather than diverse teams causing improved performance.

Harvard Business Review unpacks behaviours around diversity a little further and reports on some behaviours that point to diverse teams being smarter. Apparently diverse teams focus more on facts, which contributes to better decision making. Diversity also contributes to innovation.

The studies mentioned so far focus on gender and cultural diversity, but we should look at other personal characteristics such as national origin, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability/disability. I’ve also heard one argument that the NASA team responsible for the first moon landing was more diverse than today’s team; back then there weren’t specialised astronautical studies programmes so the team was the best they could find from a range of fields. Which suggests we should be open to different training and work experience backgrounds (when the role allows it; don’t hire a plumber to a medical team!)

Global PillageFor a very light-hearted look at diversity, in fact an experiment in diversity, listen to the Global Pillage podcast. Each episode takes on a theme and opens with contestants identifying the ways they are diverse – gay, transgender, brown, immigrant, multi-lingual, vegan, left-handed all get a mention. The format is then a quiz between two teams of two people, with the audience able to give their answer. Spoiler alert; the audience (a bigger and presumably more diverse group) usually wins.

To get a more diverse team you have to change how you hire and how you work. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Writing the vacancy notice
    Use gender neutral words, define the role in human language, state your diversity policy (don’t have one? write one). More tips here.
  2. Place the vacancy where it will be visible to diverse groups
    Look for publications, online communities and organisations associated with a range of groups. Reach out to Women in Tech groups for example.
  3. Interviewing across cultures
    Take some time to understand what cultural differences might exist between you and your interviewees. Habits of eye-contact may differ, some cultures show more deference which may seem like a weakness through an anglo-saxon filter.
  4. Flexible working environment
    Are you ready to accommodate someone with disability needs? What about someone who observes Ramadan? Or who celebrates Easter a week later than your company does? Are you able to allow people flexible hours and working from home options? The more you can answer “yes” to these hypotheticals the easier it will be to hire a diverse team.
  5. Culture of inclusion
    It’s not enough to just hire a cast of diverse colleagues, you need a workplace culture that is inclusive – where, as a colleague put it, “everyone can be their best selves”. The more widespread this is, the better. But you can have it in place in your own team, after all, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I’ve lived in several different countries, I’ve learnt several languages, my influences are from different sources. For me diversity is an important part of the work environment and yet from the outside I appear to be of the majority. Maybe diversity practices are good for us all.

 

Image: WOCinTech Chat  |  WOCinTech  | CC BY 2.0 

 

Toy Stories

Two pieces of good news from the world of toys last week.

Barbie got a make-under

As iconic as Barbie is she’s been under fire for years for perpetuating an unrealistic body myth for girls and young women. Someone has gone to the trouble of calculating the probability of a woman having Barbie’s measurements; for Barbie’s neck measurement it’s one in 4.3 billion. For a long time doctors, teachers, parents and feminists have raised the issue of “the Barbie effect“.  She’s encountered criticism for her career performance as well, when cast as a computer programmer. Mattel have seemed reluctant to make big changes, but in 2013 sales dropped. 2015 saw the launch of some

Mattel have now launched a new series of Barbie dolls, the Fashionistas; with 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 14 face shapes and a myriad of hair colours.

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This is just some of the range available.

I broke the internet rule and read the comments on this article from the Guardian.  Many commenters don’t believe this is an important step, stating that dolls are part of fantasy play. Yes, of course, but the dolls are our own avatars and it’s great that these dolls give children a choice that is more like themselves.

Legoland gets a wheelchair

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Lego, another toy brand that has been under fire for its designs in recent years, has launched a wheelchair that will fit any minifig as part of its “Fun in the Park” set.

It may be in response to the Toy Like Me campaign which seeks to have better representation of childhood toys with disabilities. They’re in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign right now, check it out and give them your support.

I’ve heard all the arguments about “it’s just a toy”, “kids don’t remember this stuff” and “changing toys doesn’t change the world”. To me this isn’t about creating a single memory, and I don’t believe changing how toys appear will change the world. But creating toys that demonstrate diversity could be part of a bigger change, it could widen our perception of what “normal” is, and it could be part of instilling pride in children who are outside the mainstream because they are in an ethnic minority, use a wheelchair, have glasses, use a walking stick or have red hair.

Children are very aware of the people around them and pick up on all sorts of nuances of people’s appearance. They’re also aware from an early age of when they’re invisible or excluded.  I’m sure that both Mattel and Lego have calculated the benefits of PR and profit from these moves, but I still applaud these moves to make their toys more inclusive.

 

Post Script; I didn’t have Barbie or Lego growing up, it’s the lack of Lego I regret.

Identity on the Edge

Gary Carter begins by talking about his work as COO for FreemantleMedia where programmes are created for audiences identified “by gender, age and social class”. It is marketing 101; segment your audience until you have an approachable target that will still be profitable. He specifies that for the television industry we, the audience, are the product sold to advertisers.

He critiques the mass marketing segmentation by providing a contrasting classification of his son as “slightly under-weight, non speaking, second generation allochtoon child aged 10, with communication spectrum disorder who is co-parented by his birth parents and two allochtoon homosexuals one of whom, in the precise language of colonial ethnography is an octaroon, in other words an non-western allochtoon who is 7/8 white and 1/8 black.” Unsurprisingly there are no programmes for his son, who is also marginalised in society and in the education system.

He challenges us to rethink how we see difference, to interest ourselves in difference instead of looking for similarity. We should see ourselves as united by our differences.

His approach resonates with me; I’m a foreigner far from my home country, I don’t know anyone from my home country here, and I have chosen to be “other” by choosing to live here. I am part of the Dutch community but not Dutch. However because I look like my Scottish ancestors people assume I’m Dutch – until I speak. In a way that’s been freeing as I could forge a new identity in a sense, in another way it’s troubling because I have no cultural history and few common references with friends here.

Gary Carter’s presentation an astonishing and moving performance; rich with poetry, imagery and music. And it poses a wonderful question – what would the world look like if we valued our differences? How would businesses change? How would the entertainment industry change? Will technology every really allow the level of micro targeting of products and content needed to reach some like Lucio Albert Shabaz Shala?