Diversity beyond social agenda

“Diversity is the engine of invention. It generates creativity that enriches the world.”. -Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

As a key driver of innovation and business growth, as well as employee retention, diversity remains a critical factor in business success. Organisations traditionally approach diversity in terms of characteristic differences (gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, physical ability, and of course many other categories). When we consider diversity, our focus is on perspectives, or diversity of thought.

In the 1930’s Korzybski coined the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’, expressing the idea that our experience of reality is simply an approximation, rather than reality itself. General Semantics outlines how our brain selectively filters data from our external world, reducing it to a manageable internal re-presentation, from which we subsequently respond.

Our construction of reality signifies our ultimate diversity, our individuality. Yet, paradoxically, diversity in organisations can sometimes focus on generalisations and can inadvertently generate unconscious biases and exclusion.

At a recent Women in Leadership Forum we ran, a participant posed a question around whether she might be considered comparatively lacking as a female leader because she did not have, nor did she intend to have, children. Unsurprising given so much of gender diversity foregrounds maternity as a central theme.

As a mother of 3, I consider maternity an important area to be addressed, however, the diversity debate needs to proactively extend beyond the concrete practicalities of motherhood and any other social agenda, to addressing the subtle, unconscious biases and perspectives that underlie a wide variety of adverse discriminatory behaviours.

Quality of leadership (and indeed promotion to leadership positions) must be considered in terms of our level of self-mastery – constructive behaviours and a level of discernment that results from depth and breadth of perspective taking and co-ordination – rather than just the experiences we bring or singular dimensions such as gender, age etc.

If we truly embrace that the map is not the territory, there is no ‘Best Practice’ Leadership, only ever increasing development and mastery within our own unique leadership style. Organisations can reduce unhealthy competition and increase innovation and leadership potential by focusing leaders on their Next Move rather than steering them towards a subjective, often limiting norm.

If we can fully embrace diversity, valuing our uniqueness and our individual shaping of reality, genuine consideration and incorporation of alternative perspectives becomes available, as well as the deepening of our own world view.

In addition, developing an increasing understanding that all perspectives are partial, all holding some value (albeit to varying degrees), we are invited to step into non-judgement and compassion for both ourselves and others, as well as more flexible and wholesome inter-personal interactions.

Ami Cook, Chief Human-centred Development Officer