Many years ago, when I backpacked my way through Indonesia, I frequently met the expression “Same same — but different”. I always smile, when I see those words, because they are impossible and yet somehow just make sense. At the end of the same as usual lies the opportunity in something different, something new.
So, why was I thinking about this? Well, on the 11th of May I will participate in a panel about tech entrepreneurship and diversity at the WonderTechSummit 2019 in Copenhagen (check it out here).
In a flash of the imposter syndrome I have asked myself “Why am I sitting on this panel?” There are so many people who know much more about the diversity agenda than me. What difference can I do? When Brian in Monty Python’s film “Life of Brian” addresses the crowd with “You are all different”, I am the man in the crowd saying “I am not”.
But when I was invited to join the panel, I just said YES. Because I want to see more diversity. I want to do my bit to help us get there. This begs the question “Why?” and I can almost hear Simon Sinek say “You should have started there in the first place!” Well, excuse me. I am getting there.
I am a strong believer in diversity, because throughout my life my personal development, my happiness and my professional success has always been richer and stronger in diverse settings.
I went to an international school where I learned a lot of fascinating stuff in the classrooms. The life lesson, which endured, however came from the schoolyard. Your pool of potential friends grows significantly when you include girls and include all nationalities. Why limit yourself to the smallest subsegment?
Later in life I had the great fortune to study with some of the greatest engineering minds I know. We had all come to the same school in France from our respective universities across continents. We were all engineers, but trained differently and approaching problems in different ways. When we played to each other’s strengths the solutions got better and we got there faster. And just like in the schoolyard I realised that the chances of personal growth and professional success increase with diversity.
This is not a fairy tale. You might say, that when your pool of potential friends grows so does your pool of potential enemies. Right. Working across cultures and languages has all kinds of barriers. Also right. So why take that risk?
For me it is about fulfilling the human potential. Mine as well as others’. Reaching out for what is different makes us all better, we create better solutions and we get there faster. Sometimes we fail and then we must learn, adapt and move forward together again. The risk of failure and disappointments are real. But to think that the alternative is a “no risk” option is a misperception. Life is risky. Just think about love. Is it really better to avoid the risk of heartbreaks and disappointments than to experience to love and be loved? I say no.
With this perspective in mind I am always looking for ways to strengthen diversity. Diversity is obviously multi-dimensional, which must always be kept in mind. When it comes to STEM it almost seems like a binary problem. The ratio of men to women continues to signal a serious lack of gender diversity. I fortunately see loads of intiatives to try to rectify this situation and we need them all. I have stated my personal reasons for why I believe we need to improve our diversity. There are many other great reasons. Most importantly I believe we can all be a part of the change by acting, even in a small way, in our everyday lives. If you can inspire just one more girl to find interest in science and technology, if you can get one more young woman to pursue a degree in STEM, get one more woman to work in tech and promote one more woman to a leadership position and to the board, then change is coming.
In my volunteer work to inspire kids to play with technology (in a great organisation called Coding Pirates (read more here, in Danish) I find that mostly the girls just need a little inspiration and then be left to it to make great things happen. The main task is to keep the boys and myself from interfering.
But we do know that there is more to it than that. “Not interfering”, however easy that sounds, reflects a deep cultural change and this is really what we must achieve. To believe that you can keep choosing “same same” and achieve something new is a folly. Both men and women need to choose something new to drive a positive and inclusive change. It is not a zero-sum trade-off. On the contrary it opens the full potential for all.
Take the lesson from the Indonesian vendor. Whenever you have the chance to choose “Same same — but different” do so. Challenge yourself to make that kind of choices and drive change. Take the risk and your life will be richer and happier for it.