The Diversity Level

In the past I have talked quite a bit about diversity in this blog. Diversity is critical to the future development and growth of communities, and the strongest communities are ones with a strong sense of equality and diversity, and a governance infrastructure that supports and celebrates that diversity.

Importantly, diversity is closely connected to evolution. The essence of diversity is in all of us, but the social acceptance of said diversity is a slower moving animal. There are obvious large social progressions in diversity – gender and race equality being one such example – but within every community and human grouping we see diversity and evolution moving forward, hand in hand.

Typically when talk about diversity, we use these common examples. Gender. Race. Sexuality. Class. Although important, these poster-children of diversity can sometimes focus the attention away from more subtle and potentially potent forms of diversity that we can encourage, explore and celebrate.

George B. Graen, author of Dealing with Diversity talks about these different types of diversity that we have before us. His interesting hypothesis is that not all differences are equally relevant or important in all circumstances. He broadly divides this diversity into surface-level diversity which are readily observable characteristics such as the one we have just discussed — race, gender, or age, and deep-level diversity which points us towards important but less readily transparent entities such as personality, values, and attitudes.

Now we are rolling.

I am really keen to explore how we can build diversity in these areas of personality, experiences, perspectives and beliefs. Often these more hidden kinds of diversity teach us life’s most valuable lessons, and we typically learn these lessons for whom we share a deep-level of diversity. I am not suggesting surface-level diversity is unimportant, and I want to be clear here, I am not talking about equality, all equality is important, but I am keen to explore how we can grow this sense of deep-level diversity.

But is deep-level diversity a productive and pro-active area in which to focus our efforts? The cards may well be in our favour – Graen suggests that surface-level diversity appears to be waning:

“In a study of 45 teams from electronics divisions of three major corporations, Pelled, Eisenhardt, and Xin (1999) found that the effects of surface-level diversity (age) on emotional conflict diminished as a function of team longevity. Similarly, Chatman and Flynn (2001) found that demographic homogeneity (race and gender) was less predictive of team cooperation as team members interacted with each other”.

Interestingly, at the same time, and in another research study, deep-level diversity is growing:

“In a study of 144 student project teams, Harrison, Price, Gavin, and Florey (2002) found that surface-level diversity negatively affected early cohesion in the team. Over the course of a semester working together, surface-level diversity became less predictive, whereas actual deep-level diversity (measured by conscientiousness, task meaningfulness, and outcome importance) and perceptions of deep-level diversity became increasingly important to team social cohesion and performance”.

Although the experiment may seem a little abstract, Graen suggests that “as team members interact, attributions about underlying differences based on race, gender, and age are likely to be minimized; however, the underlying differences in terms of personality, values, and attitudes are likely to have an increasingly negative effect on team cohesion and performance“.

In a nutshell, as a community, diversity is everywhere. We have so many opinions, viewpoints, perspectives, recommendations and other reactions to stimulus, and at every step we need to foster and encourage open and frank exchanges of debate, and to bring balance to this debate. The Ubuntu Code Of Conduct, one of the most important documents in the community that I frequent most of the time, draws attention to understanding and respecting this deep-level of diversity, but the Code Of Conduct is sometimes misinterpreted as simply” don’t be an asshole“. It means far more than that – it encourages us to not only take responsibility for our actions and our reactions, but to also use this diversity as an opportunity to learn and grow; turning differences into opportunities for personal development and learning. If we are ever going to win this fight, we need to cherish and respect this deep-level diversity. The importance of this is not something we can enforce with actions, bullet-points, success criteria or other organisational devices – it boils down to us always remembering why we are doing what we are doing, and standing shoulder to shoulder, connected by our diversity to help us grow and take on the challenges before us.

  • Joseph James Frantz

    Finally some good comments about diversity and the UCOC. I’d like to add that some folks think the COC says things like:

    Don’t use certain words.

    Don’t talk about political topics that we disagree with.

    Don’t talk about religion (unless you are an atheist, then you can bash religion).

    Don’t call Ubuntu a GNU/Linux distribution, only call it Linux.

    Don’t complain about proprietary companies like Microsoft.

    Don’t praise proprietary companies like Microsoft when they do things that are free.

    Don’t act like an adult, only always talk as if you were 3 years old and are surrounded by other children. To wit:

    Don’t speak in the COMMON vernacular (I’m not talking about cussing here, I am talking about normal, common speech, words like yall, yens, howdy, holler, watup have been FORBIDDEN by certain persons…no I kid you not).

    The aforementioned banning of certain words. Any sort of conversation about not just sexuality but RELATIONSHIPS. (God forbid if you are gay or single or poly or vamp or goth or in any other NON “normal” relationship). Don’t disagree with anyone (but we can disagree with those anyones).

    Don’t bring up that their actions have “violated” the COC when they did, but they will claim that others actions did in fact “violate” the COC for doing things not mentioned even in spirit in the COC (examples above).

    Diversity means that your “community” has to learn there ARE going to be those of us that are different from yall. It is based on all of these things and many more. The attacks on Vorian because of his faith and voting and merely SUGGESTING that someone COULD vote a particular way, and the attacks on Stephan for things as simple as using three letters, demonstrate that this community has a LONG way to go before actually accepting mutliveristy.

  • jimcooncat

    Nowhere else have I seen projects that embrace diversity than Debian and Ubuntu. As publishers, we have to understand our audience. Software is often written by people or companies with audience assumptions based on their own experience, and if you as a user aren’t part of their focus, using the software will be frustrating.

    Being from Maine USA, even I notice a West Coast feel and “attitude” to a number of commercial packages. I can only imagine how frustrating a lot of US software is to other people in the world. Even Canadians 😉

  • marku

    mr.frantz, you are absolutely correct. politica-correctness is mental poison. suprising to read such common sense on this blog.

  • Sveinung

    Joseph James Frantz: I agree with you that the way Vorian was treated is shameful. I’m not trying to excuse it. But I think there is a deeper issue here. I think people have different ideas about what tolerance means. Some people seems to believe that tolerance is that people can look as differently as they wish and do whatever they want. They are allowed to believe what they want on some issues as long as they follow the pack those issues the pack care about. (Example: In my country it’s perfectly accepted to be Catholic as long as you support homosexuality, abortion, condoms, etc) Any idea opposing their idea of tolerance must in their view be crushed. My view is that tolerance is to allow people to think as differently as they want to. This includes the right to oppose other peoples acts or for that matter oppose tolerance itself.

  • Ll

    The issue isn’t so much that you’re not allowed to dislike abortion, homosexuality, or condoms. It’s that you’re not allowed to try to force that on others.

    All to often, dislike of these things takes the form of trying to forbit it to everyone. You’re more than welcome to be straight, to not get abortions, and not use condoms. Just don’t begrudge everyone else that same respect.

  • Joseph James Frantz


    I don’t agree even in the least that Debian or Ubuntu embrace diversity any more than other projects, FOSS or proprietary. In fact, I have found that proprietary groups are about making money, thus they usually bite their lip if you say something with which they disagree. An example is that I have never been told by an MS rep that I was not permitted to swear when having a conversation with adults.


    Bono seems to be the only one at Canonical with any kind of common sense in this realm. Unfortunately, like it or not, Canonical sets the tone for the rest of the Ubuntu teams, so when their employees are about restricting speech, we can expect other self-styled leaders in their community to do the same.


    As far as Vorians position on the voting issue, I disagree with him. However, he still should be able to voice his opinion. Now, people can tell him his opinion is wrong, or why they disagree with him or are voting differently, that I am ok with. The exception I take is that he was told he should not be posting his opinion, ostensibly because Planet Ubuntu isnt about politics. Yet we see LOTS of politicing and no one tells the left that they cannot post.

    To clarify I have more libertarian leanings. Morally I feel you should do what you want, so long as it infringes upon no one else. I support gay marriage, abortion, and I support the right to bear arms. So I am somewhat left and somewhat right. But even those I disagree with vehemently, I think should be able to voice their opinion.

    What I have found though is that folks that claim to be liberal, are most generally not. It is not pro-choice, rather it is pro-choice in issues that they believe you should have a choice in. Other issues they are decidedly anti-choice. (This is not true always of course, many liberals are truely liberal in the literal sense of the word, not the political, liberal in some things orthodoxed and controlling in others).


    Which is exactly my problem with political liberals. As the things THEY think I should not be doing (cussing, using words like yall, talking about my relationships) they try to enforce that upon me. It is not a live and let live attitude from political liberals.

    A very good example is abortions. As mentioned I am libertarian. The Libertarian Party platform on abortion is a hands off. Some are morally opposed to it, some are morally for it. But the party position is that it is none of the government’s business.

    In one case I stated that I think the government should be strictly NEUTRAL regarding abortion, no laws for or against, and that a woman should decide for herself whether she gets an abortion when pregnant. But I hoped that by the fifth or sixth month she had made her decision. But either way it was not a decision for government.

    The response from one of the political liberals I was talking to was “OH! Because YOU think I should have this baby I should! YOU want ME barefoot and pregnant! yada yada…” This despite the fact that I had clearly said my position was the OPPOSITE of that and that it should be the WOMAN that decided her own fate.

    So when I read these occasional posts from Jono supporting more freedom I dig it. But sadly, he is a rare breed at Canonical and in the Ubuntu ranks.

  • raetsel

    An interesting post and deep level diversity is not something I have come across as a concept before. However I’m not sure I understand what the second quote about the Harrison, Price, Gavin, and Florey study is trying to say.

    I read it as saying that differences in how conscientious people were and how important they thought the outcome of a task was, affected team cohesion and performance.

    Isn’t this an area where you don’t want much diversity? Who wants less conscientious people on a team? Or people who don’t actually care about the outcome of a project?

    Mind you in this aspect I can see a difference between a team that is put together by an employer and a community that people choose to join.

    When your boss is after a result, having less conscientious people in a team is a pain in the ass but in a community the work will be done by the conscientious and any contribution from the less conscientious is a bonus. Unless of course the less conscientious are somehow disproportionately using up scarce resources of the community.

  • Sveinung

    Ll: It’s that I’m not allowed to think* that it should be forced on others. What they call “tolerance” limits the mind, What I call “tolerance” limits physical** actions.

    • as in hold the position, not postmodern “feel” ** not sure if this is the correct English word. If “physical” includes thinking, talking about ideas or trying to change other peoples mind in a peaceful way I used the wrong word
  • Joseph James Frantz


    EXACTLY. The folks that I run into that claim to be liberal are more often about controlling what I THINK, how I FEEL, what BELIEFS I am allowed to have. This does of course seep into what i am allowed to do, with them constantly trying to prevent me from doing it. Whereas conservatives tend to try to prevent actions, not discourse. Both are unacceptable to me. But talking about it is ok.

  • marku

    i suppose i should mail my Christmas cards now before some liberal-turd makes christian and jewish holiday celebrations illegal.