Diversity of thought

Je m’accuse. I’m such a bad blogger. I haven’t been focusing much lately, but given the recent events around #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve been doing some thinking. A lot has been said about diversity and inclusion—whether for black lives, females, LGBTQ+, or some other class—, but the issue is more complex and dimensional than a problem with intersectionality.

There is something to be said for experiential diversity, and the benefits of virtual cross-pollination may have some advantages, but much of this is superficial diversity-washing, enough to claim a public relations participation award.

I keep Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex close to the top of my mind much of the time, but this is more than just about feminism. It’s about otherism—the otherness that creates outgroups.

In Beauvoir’s parlance, there are men and there are not-men—others. This is similar to Baudrillard’s dog/not-dog distinction but with more intention, so we arrive at an orthodox/not-orthodox pairing.

Taking workplace diversity as a frame, that they accept blacks, or women, or disabled, or some other identified class is superficial because the common thread is an acceptance of the prevailing meta-narratives, not only of Capitalism, Democracy, meritocracy, authority structures, and the like. As long as you comply with this mindset, sex and gender, the colour of one’s skin, or disability is cosmetic.

To some extent, there will be some diversity of thought. There will be some cultural perspectives, some generational perspectives, and some gender perspectives, but all of these are aligned to the overarching narrative.

In the world—in the United States anyway—, it’s OK to be black or Hispanic as long as you act ‘white’ or ‘American’. Speak with a neutral accent. Listen to mainstream pop. Don’t wear culturally identifiable clothing. This will ensure acceptance. In a way, this is a faux pas of Donald Trump. He comes across as vulgar to those who hold this perspective.

The diversity that’s missing is one that would do things differently. When a woman ascends to a CEO position, she has done so by more or less mimicking the path a man would probably have taken, making similar decisions. Ditto for a black. Double ditto for a black woman.

People outside of this narrow path will not ascend. I’ll ignore the question of whether this is even a worthwhile aim, A woman who takes this path may have to break through a glass ceiling, but for those of us with a more diverse mindset, the ceiling is stainless steel—a meter thick.

But this is for more than CEOs. I am a self-aware eccentric, and although I colour within the lines my thought is typically outside of accepted boundaries. Luckily, I’ve had the good fortune to work with the right people in the right environments to capitalise rather than be hampered by this difference. I’ve been lucky enough to operate with relative autonomy because over the years I’ve generally met or exceeded expectations on my own path.

During a review—or at least a conversation—about a decade ago, a manager told me that he had no idea how I operated but that he didn’t want to interfere for fear of breaking the goose laying the golden eggs. I know this was difficult for him to do and to admit because he is a very structured thinker and felt compelled to create repeatable structures (despite ignoring the structure when it came to him—and, thankfully, me).

This same person—whom I admire despite our having different worldviews—also noted that I operate as a director or orchestrator rather than a typical leader. I feel this is spot on. Even as early as high school, I articulated that I did not consider myself to be either a leader or a follower. I was a self-professed adviser, so it’s no surprise that I find myself in consulting and advisory roles. I realise that in the United States, the world is constructed to be more diametrically than it would otherwise need to be, so I end up being a veritable unicorn in most settings.

As those who know me, my first career was in the entertainment field, where diversity is more part of the rule than the exception—though there are still many normies there, too. My ex-wife asked me countless time why I left the music industry, or didn’t stick to academics or activism, each with their own level of interest to me.

The problem is that this diverse perspective is not something a resume can convey very well as there needs to be a great deal of trust, which is not typically in place for new hires, so many, let’s say, organic and creative thinkers, get left out of the equation to the detriment of cultural diversity.

4 thoughts on “Diversity of thought

  1. Every employer wants conformity from employees. It’s the nature of the employer-employee relationship. An employee isn’t supposed to be an individual. He’s supposed to be a more-or-less replaceable cog in a well designed system. An individual who thinks for himself is an uncontrolled variable. No manager wants that.

    If you have a problem with this, don’t be an employee. Find some other career model.

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    1. There are several types of employment atmospheres. If one is working in an unskilled relatively low-skilled position, this plug and play scenario may work fine, but with knowledge workers and higher-level positions, culture is important. While it takes little to replace and retrain the low-end positions, it is expensive and time-consuming to replace at the higher end.

      So, if you are working at McDonald’s assembling burgers, I am sure they don’t want a lot of improvisation. If you are a manager or an executive, part of your function is to be productive, keep your staff productive, and find new ways to capture revenue. This is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and a corporate culture will likely die on the vine if it attempts to operate that way. Without a diversity of thought, this company will likely stagnate and whither. Other more flexible companies will take their place.

      Moreover, if I am a potential employer with a choice of oppressive company A or flexible company B, I think we both know who’s going to get the best talent with the other company having to settle for leftovers, who will only stay until a better opportunity comes along.

      First rule of evolution: Adapt or die.

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      1. I can tell you in software R&D there is a certain pressure to conform. Perhaps the sort who are attracted to such work are more sensitive to this, because we have a greater need for autonomy. But I watch a movie like Office Space and it makes me think it’s not just me, or this movie wouldn’t exist. My point is you can never have real freedom until you start thinking of yourself as the CEO of you. That way you will always love your boss and your boss will always have your back.

        But then there’s the steep learning curve of doing everything that your bosses used to do for you. No free lunch. Bosses exist for a reason. Wish I’d taken more business and psych courses in college. But I prefer that kind of stress to that of feeling like I’ve got to earn someone else’s approval or be kicked to the curb.

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