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Diverse views on diversity

Last week’s publication of the memo ‘Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber’ ignited widespread discussion about diversity of thought, political correctness, and the value of diversity in general.

We loved seeing the wide range of views being shared and debated. As Diversity and Inclusion consultants, we welcome any opportunity to have an open and honest conversation about diversity – that’s the core premise of all of our programs and coaching work. 

We always ask that conversation be respectful, evidence-based, and reflective of company values such as integrity and inclusion.

That’s important because we know many people hold strong personal views on the topic – after all, diversity and inclusion is a topic that affects all of us.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

At the heart of last week’s debate is an important question: how do we communicate effectively with people whose views are fundamentally different from, and at odds, with our own?

Sharing personal views about diversity via an internal memo is one way to have your voice heard, but there are many other ways to do this within an organisation.

Facilitated team discussions or workshops, for example, can yield opportunities for discussion, debate, and learning about diversity and inclusion in a respectful way. This allows employees to build their knowledge and understanding by listening to each other, as well as from investigating a range of research studies.

Aside from ‘how’ the google memo author chose to share his views, there’s the ‘what’.

Many claims in the memo are highly controversial. For example, the manifesto repeats the faulty (though popular) claim that diversity somehow ‘lowers the bar’ of performance. (Substantial research suggests it’s quite the opposite.)

Most concerning to us is the way the memo draws on, and reinforces, gender stereotypes. It’s important to remember that stereotypes are based on beliefs and not facts. This means, as Professor Binna Kandola explains in his book on The Invention of Difference: The story of gender bias at work, ‘they are often faulty, and lead to false assumptions, judgements and decision-making.’

All organisations put boundaries around what they consider acceptable, and Google’s CEO responded by saying ‘we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.’

…it’s more important than ever to explore diversity (of thinking and background) through respectful conversations.

It’s likely we’ll hear a lot more about the memo and subsequent events: already on Wikipedia you’ll find a good summary of the diverse reactions to the memo from well-known ethicists, scientists, and psychologists, among others.

There’s no doubt more and more global organisations recognise the benefits of greater demographic and cognitive diversity in the workplace. Decision-making is more robust and new ideas are generated when there’s a considered approach to gaining multiple perspectives and utilising different thinking approaches. 

The strong pull of groupthink, affinity and confirmation bias can lead to echo-chambers, and it’s up to all of us in workplaces to be alert to those risks. This includes the risk of pro – D & I echo chambers.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to explore diversity (of thinking and background) through respectful conversations, drawing on education and research that recognises the unconscious biases we all have – and which can easily muddy our decisions and perspectives.


*This blog benefited from lots of discussion within our own team this week: I’d particularly like to acknowledge inputs from Duncan Smith and Leith Mitchell. 

If you’re keen to learn more about translating diversity of thinking into practice, you’ll find some tips in this interview by Peoplecorp’s Tim Henry with Dr Katie Spearritt.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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