How Do We Avoid “Diversity” Becoming a Business Thing?

(Disclaimer: Thinking out loud, as with all my blogposts. Do feel free to agree/critique/argue, and I reserve the right to change my(/your) mind and progress my thinking as part of this process.)

Catherine Howe’s weeknotes/fieldnotes on “multidisciplinary-working” delves into something I keep passively returning to: the value of diversity as a first-and-foremost value. We stand at a point where we need to establish diversity as a conscious act if we want to allow it to exist against a tide of anti-diversity in the world. As Catherine notes, this requires:

a decision to create a shared endeavour of a blended practice that is built on diversity because you believe the outcome will be better because of that diversity of experience and mindset

This is something I’ve come to realise more formally and faithfully in the last few years. When going through an exercise to establish “shared values” within a team, how can we not begin with an understanding that we are establishing a common set because we are already inherently different?

However, I have a love/hate relationship with this view that diversity = a better outcome. I love it because, in one sense, I am an outcome. So many different people have influenced me in my life, and it would be impossible to draw a distinction between myself and that crowd of opinions, backgrounds, knowledge and love.

And yet, a bit of me worries about turning diversity into a proposition for “better business”. Which is always a worry in capitalist society. And which is not to say I think Catherine or myself are purely adopting a “diversity is great for profit” perspective. More that, if we’re not careful, that is how such well-intended social value modelling can quickly go.

Thinking out loud, can we break the value-of-diversity into three slightly-distinct forms?

  1. Diversity as impacts the individual (the self) in order to gather a wide range of experience into one single mind.

  2. Diversity as impacts business effectiveness, ie heterogeneity either produces more sustainable or effective ways of producing business value, purely through less groupthink, or it helps a business to link into wider external needs, such as a larger market.

  3. Diversity as impacts our democratic sustainability as a society, and hence our more general sustainability as a species. Without diversity and integration, the risk is not that we become ineffective like a business, but that we become hostile and warmongering.

Of these, #1 and #3 are potentially likely to be pushed out by #2. It seems to be a sad truth that we’re moving towards a world in which humans and experience are valued primarily for their economic value. Perhaps this is the desperate, dying efforts of a society hooked on the growth of capital, and the need to generate database numbers from anything easily and virtually1 exploitable. An endless supply of get-rich-quick subjects.

Personal experience counts for little these days – not unless you can blog it and get sponsored. It remains to be seen if democracy and non-war have any particular foothold in this century.

1 By “virtually”, I mean anything that can be modelled into numbers, and hence have generic algorithms run against it.

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