When Diversity Eats Diversity

By David Bernstein

During my lunch hour, when I worked in downtown Boston a decade ago, I would see herds of white dudes walking the streets in formation, all wearing the same Brooks Brothers suit and power tie. I would ask my lunch companion: guess which one is the alpha male? We would always point to the same person. It was that obvious. Imagine, for a second, working at their company in the Financial District. What do you think the culture would be like? Yeah, that’s right. You’ve got it.

Now imagine working for a human services nonprofit staffed almost entirely by women. I bet you can conjure up its likely cultural idiosyncrasies as well.

Both the male and female monocultures are subject to rampant groupthink, which occurs when similar people with similar perspectives work together. In an age when innovation is key to growth in most industries, however, we need a diverse array of people at the table with different life experiences, viewpoints, thinking styles, cultural backgrounds, genders, etc. so that we hear varied perspectives and can understand different markets. Indeed, a central aim of diversity is to create cultures of innovation, creativity and dynamism.

Another aim of diversity is to open the doors to historically marginalized people.Those white guys in the Boston financial institutions may intentionally or unintentionally exclude women and people of color. It is beneficial for both the company and society to diversify their workforces.

The problem comes when this second form of diversity – diversity of representation – becomes so dominant and so politicized that it kills off the first form of diversity – diversity of thought.

While early forms of representational diversity may have simply sought out more black people in predominantly white institutions, or more women in predominantly male institutions, today’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs tend to come packaged with an ideology that creates its own monocultures.These programs often demand that everyone accept a monolithic view of race and racism, lest they be accused of being fragile or complicit in perpetuating “white supremacy”.

Such environments stifle the ability of people to speak openly and honestly with each other and thus generate less diversity of thought and ideas.They necessarily suffocate innovation.

Let’s take the example of a newsroom that has decided all news coverage will be determined through “a racial equity lens”. Reporters who want to cover stories that have nothing to do with racial equity or somehow contradict the underlying perspective on racism, will never see their stories given the light of day. Important stories will never get covered. After a while, the news will all sound the same.

In the present atmosphere, you can find parallels in literally every industry.

We desperately need diversity of thought as well as diversity of representation in the workplace. Right now the latter is devouring the former.

You may want to start doing something about it. We at Counterweight are here to help.

To find out more about Viewpoint diversity consultancy services please email David Bernstein at DavidLBernstein66@gmail.com.

David Bernstein is an Affiliate at Counterweight and Principal of Viewpoint consulting. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.

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