“Diversity of Thought” without Diverse Representation is Status Quo
At some point along our journey, some of us seem to have lost the core purpose of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.
In the last 2–3 years, I’ve observed the phrase “Diversity of Thought” gain momentum among many tech leaders and beyond. Proponents of this approach argues the way we think and express our opinions, our eclectic personalities, the myriad of leadership styles and Myer-Briggs results, are just as, if not more, important than demographic diversity that focuses on one’s gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, etc.
Well, I’m here to tell you nope, they’re not the same.
A quick clarification — it’s important to note I’m differentiating “Diversity of Thought” from neurodiversity, which aims to make room for neurological differences (Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others) and advocates for access to various communities often marginalized. The purpose of this post isn’t to debate whether these two concepts are related, but to critique the mainstream usage of the term “Diversity of Thought” as a way to hinder increasing underrepresented populations in the workforce.
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Someone on LinkedIn shared a Forbes article that really pissed me off. It, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the biggest pieces of garbage I’ve read written by a white male author (whose other articles also turned out to be highly problematic) arguing against demographic diversity. In the article, he conveniently co-opts the diversity movement for “personality” diversity, which he calls “deep” diversity vs. demographic diversity that prioritizes gender and race as “surface” diversity.
His argument feels vaguely familiar to the one we encountered via James Damore’s Google Manifesto. Such shallow understanding of why diverse and equitable representation matters disregards the importance of undoing centuries of systemic oppression and disparities experienced by various identity groups, while achieving nothing but making cis, straight, white men in positions of power to feel at ease while looking around the room at similar faces.
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The author, Chief Talent Scientist at the Manpower Group (I mean, come on), argues “if your goal is to have people who behave and think in different ways, you should focus less on their gender, nationality, and ethnicity, and more on how they behave and think.” In another article, he argues the best way to manage unconscious bias in the workplace is to manage your reputation and make others believe you are not biased, while trivializing and misrepresenting the impacts of unconscious bias by casually stating “prejudiced and stereotypical biases, we should remember that they are mostly explicit rather than implicit, and conscious rather than unconscious.”
“Diversity of Thought” should be achieved as a result of diverse representation. Our thoughts and perspectives aren’t developed in a vacuum. The way we think, problem-solve, communicate, lead, see the world… is largely shaped by our lived experiences, often rooted in our identities. The way we achieve real “diversity of thought” and reduce blindspots in organizations is by ensuring people from all walks of life are given seats and actual power at the table (inclusion and equity).
It’s disappointing to see so many self-claimed progressive intellectuals use “Diversity of Thought” as a convenient excuse to not challenge the status quo, while comforting themselves being complicit in the continued underrepresentation of marginalized groups of people in systems they inhabit.
A room filled with only cis, straight, white men could allow for some variations in life experiences — we all are multi-dimensional beings — however, we’d be failing to expand the scope to introduce a much greater level of diversity of thought. Think of it like this: you wouldn’t just gather a room full of doctors to discuss the entire job market. Sure, there may be diversity of disciplines (e.g., optometry, dentistry, dermatology, etc.) within the group of doctors, but to get the full picture, we need teachers, firefighters, custodial workers, sociologists, entertainers, etc. Now, this metaphor lacks historical context and systemic marginalization of different groups, that make our discussion around Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace even more complex, but it alludes to how limiting the idea of similar-demographic “diversity of thought” can be.
We can find diversity within all of us — however, let’s not fool ourselves in thinking we can minimize the vastly different lived experiences of different identity groups caused by the decades of systemic inequities.
I’m alarmed to see the said article and the approach at large being embraced by so many white leaders, even those in the D&I field. It’s disappointing to see so many self-claimed progressive intellectuals use “Diversity of Thought” as a convenient excuse to not challenge the status quo, while comforting themselves being complicit in the continued underrepresentation of marginalized groups of people in systems they inhabit.
So long as we keep legitimizing this flawed narrative of “Diversity of Thought” without real demographic diversity that disrupts systemic injustices, we’re going to continue seeing products, ads, policies, media, and the world being designed for and by the same people, or at best, creating sloppy interpretations of what they believe the rest of the world needs.
Don’t be distracted by the illusion of momentary relief provided by “Diversity of Thought.” “Diversity of Thought” without diverse representation is just status quo — it simply is not good enough.
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About Michelle Kim
Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and writer passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the Co-Founder and CEO of Awaken, a leading provider of experiential and modern Diversity & Inclusive workshops and Modern Manager™ training.