In any community - that ranges from a family to an organization to a country, - people come with different backgrounds, tastes, experiences, opinions. But who do we like to hang out with? Someone with similar backgrounds, tastes, experiences and opinions. Its natural. It’s our comfort zone. Going out of that zone takes effort. Sometimes it’s even seen as being risky and unnecessary.
So we build walls with tiny windows and secret doors.
Families do this all the time. We tell our children, ‘We have always been doctors in this family. So you have to be one too.’ ‘Your sister does so well in math, why can’t you?’ Creating aspirations in children is essential but defining exactly how that should manifest, is stifling possibilities to greatness or even just plain happiness.
A few weeks ago, when we had our community town hall meeting, someone said that we must not rent out our homes to people with a certain color. Why? Because they drink, they are very noisy, and they party late into the night. There were others who said ‘yes, yes, that’s right’. Oh? Those who are not of that color don’t do all that? Wouldn’t it be simpler and easier to tell them to keep the noise down instead of saying you are not welcome in our community? Just the other afternoon I got call from a house owner asking me advice on whether they can let out their premises to people of a certain religion. What are these prejudices that define and drive us? What are we afraid of?
We are so surrounded by this subtle suppression of diversity that when we begin to practice it we don’t even realize what we are doing.
What happens when people step out of homes, communities, educational institutions and enter organizations to work? We carry this ‘stick and stay with your type’ briefcase with us. We quickly look for someone from 'my college, my hometown, my community, my whatever’. That’s ok for starters. One needs that sense of ‘belonging’. The unfortunate thing is that it stays. Comfort zones are created. Sameness is promoted. It begins to show up in diverse contexts such as work groups, job assignments, hiring, mentoring, cafeterias, offices, companies. It is so subtle that we don’t know it’s there. Its the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
I think this is because diversity is disruptive by definition. But disruption is one of the seeds of innovation. If diversity is not actively promoted, innovation has not much chance. Creative ideation has a higher possibility with diversity than with sameness.
It’s easier to have conversations where everyone agrees with what is being said, when there are no disagreements about decisions taken, and there is no disruption to the smooth flow of proceedings and events. There is comfort in the routine and the predictable. But then, if everyone had the same level of proficiency in the same skills, if everyone was equally experienced, if everyone had the same view points, if everyone did what everyone else would do, would anything new, exciting, creative emerge from that group as a matter of routine?
Diversity is embedded in the design of nature and its results are there for all to see. For our own growth and maturity I think it’s important for each of us to be aware of where, when, and how, we are stifling diversity and thereby strangling creativity and innovation. Don’t be afraid of diversity. Celebrate it. Practice it.