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.