Just about every major business publication has run something about how diversity improves business performance. If you are on a diverse team, you’ll probably have more success than if you’re on a homogenous team. And, to some extent, we can each control the teams we’re on.
For one thing, you should pick companies to work for that have a diverse group of employees. You can also do what you can to build your own diverse teams.
One way to think of diversity is race. A professor at the University of Chicago conducted a study about workplace racism in which he sent 5000 resumes to want ads in Boston and Chicago. He sent duplicate resumes, but changed the names. The names that sounded white (Emily Walsh) were fifty percent more likely to get a call back than a name that sounded African-American (Lakisha Washington).
You are probably saying to yourself that you would never be racist at work. But that is probably not true. Because almost no one will admit to being racist, but a lot of it is unintentional, and it’s definitely not limited to the scope of that resume study.
While you’re busy denying that you’re racist, consider that diversity is not all about race – or gender, for that matter.
I had an eye-opening experience when I wrote an article for the LA Weekly about medical issues for “non-whites”. I could not write “minorities” in the LA Weekly, because in LA, Hispanics outnumber whites. (Interesting side note, from the article: Many top doctors who study this topic are advocating separate but equal treatments for blacks and whites.)
So, try thinking about diversity in terms of experience. Look for diversity in economic experience, in schooling, politics. The June issue of Harper’s magazine ran a little piece about how “living libraries” that have taken place in Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Portugal. The idea is that there are real people that you can borrow for an hour in order to explore your own prejudices and stereotypes. Here are some examples of the kinds of people you can borrow:
Animal-rights activist, black person, bureaucrat, environmentalist, ex-football hooligan, ex-illiterate person, e-neo-Nazi, feminist, Jew, Muslim, priest, unemployed person, asylum seeker, blonde woman, disabled person, ex-drug abuser, ex-homeless person, ex-prisoner, gay person, lesbian, police officer, skateboarder, vegetarian.
The charm of the list, of course, is that we each ask ourselves who we have the most prejudice against. For me, it’s the football player. I’m not sure, frankly, that I’ve ever talked to one for more than a couple of minutes.
So maybe diversity you need to create in your work teams is as wide or as narrow as the kind of experience you are missing in your own life.