I don’t watch much TV anymore, too many other distractions. But anyone who watches shows like Law & Order knows some fundamental things about the human body. Our fingerprints are unique, as are our teeth – specifically the exact configuration of our teeth. Before DNA tests were all the rage, fingerprints and dental records were the best direct tie to actual humans that an investigator had.
When working with some people in my organization recently on the subject of diversity, it was clear they were all caught up in the wrapper – the outward appearance we all have. I worked with a manager once who would be very happy if she had a visibly diverse team, even if they came from nearly the same set of developmental experiences, like something close to what she had. In fact, her biggest test in selection tends to be focused on how closely the candidate’s answers match her own experience.
Yes, you could walk into a meeting of 100 employees, and make a quick assessment of their diversity in terms of age, race, and gender. Imagine you walk into this meeting, and quickly see that there seems to be gender balance, that there are a mix of racial or ethnic backgrounds that approximate the community, and that the apparent ages are also spread out. So what? Do you know what positions each of these people hold? What departments they are from? Do you know how many of the employees under 30 have been there for less than 6 months, because they quickly learn that the progression system is broken?
Before I even joined HR, I was concerned about outward prejudice and discrimination I was seeing in the workplace. I encountered it myself in an interview, when, at 28 years old, I was asked why I wasn’t married – yet. The question itself was one thing, but adding “yet” was the deal breaker that let me know this was not a place for me to work. The interviewer had told me about his three marriages, so I asked him when he planned to get it right.
No two people are alike. We are degrees apart when it comes to measuring diversity. If you work on the wrapper, you’ll get it wrong. You need to understand and value diversity in a whole new way. And that’s the problem I’ve seen. That many leaders have spent a lot of their career aligning processes, making sure things get done consistently the same way. No room for inventiveness or creativity or challenge. This is how we do it. If you think like me, we’ll get along fine. If you think like me but look different, that’s even better. I want a diverse team. Ugh.
I don’t want unique fingerprints that go with common brainwaves. I want to see brainwaves collide in conflict to bring new solutions and innovation that drive our businesses to new levels of performance. And I want my HR peers to challenge their businesses to learn to manage THAT kind of diversity. In my lifetime. Please.