Blog 2: – We are not equal, but please treat me equal

In my previous blog: A Day in the Life of a Country Director – EDI or Why I Love my Mum #1, I wrote about how for some, mainstreaming equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and taking an appropriately consistent approach to doing so, requires the need for a global resource of experts and tools to support us in achieving this, whilst for others the alignment of cultural relations and EDI is so close that it is non-existent for all intents and purposes, so to have a separate hub of excellence runs the risk of creating a dissonance. I counted myself as Country Director Nepal in the group that would be inclined to feel that we need both. A bit wishy washy I hear you say (cue colloquial language aside).

As a UK cultural relations organization, some would say ‘the’ cultural relations premier of the UK, I also naturally wrote about that crème de la crème that is UK culture - Morris Dancing, and my mother’s ability and enthusiasm (she would kill me) to practice this fine art. Well why wouldn’t you? Love you mum.

In this blog I am going to trick you into believing that I am genuinely passionate as a leader about EDI, whilst really just ticking some boxes for our DAF submission. Go on, I’ll let that settle with you for a while.

I think diversity for the sake of diversity is just arbitrary, it should be engineered to be relevant. If, for example, you hire loads of brilliant people who think in the same way, then you may increase productivity but you won’t get any uplift. 

In a very stereotypical sense if you put an American and a Japanese in front of a fish tank the American will hone in on the subject and look at the fish, whilst the Japanese would look at the context of the tank, and the interplay in the background of the other fish. Now these are stereotypes, and there is obviously deviation within this, but it is a stereotype for a reason – it’s simply true enough for many of us to recognize it. So why am I writing about fish? Well flip it another way, if you had a Board, could be for a project or an organization, if everyone on it thought the same you would produce an elevated sense of false confidence. Yes the fish is orange and handsome, say the Americans smugly, whilst the Japanese member keeps quiet because they haven’t seen the fish at the front of the tank, well not properly seen it, they were far too interested in the cute couple at the back holding hands.

Flip it again, allow that subconscious bias to come into play, and we end up recruiting people who look, sound and think like us, and what do you then get, but a false sense of cleverness and superiority. We are the best. Mum stop dancing please.

But think about purposively putting a particular diverse group together, select them well and that false superiority is challenged and you start to engage with different ideas and ways of doing things with the uplift that this can produce. EDI then becomes good for us, and good for business. 

A diverse group can still be shut down by an alpha male or female, especially if that leader has influence over careers through performance evaluations and recruitment, but there are techniques to get around this. Try ‘brain-writing’ rather than ‘brain-storming’, share the documentation for all to read, then everyone writes down first before any sharing or discussion, or in other words, if you are the boss in a meeting speak last. The prestige of a leader can still come into play when you have explored all options, because that informs the boss to make a good decision and to take it forward. Best of both worlds.

Fish and chips, anyone?