A colleague recently suggested I might one day expand my focus to kinds of differences other than gender differences. Actually my goal is to expand people’s appreciation for difference – all kinds of difference. We define “diversity” broadly; we approach it, however, through specific kinds of difference — gender (and generational) differences in the workplace. Many people in the field of diversity and inclusion have a broad focus. Why do we focus more narrowly? Here is why:
- It works to dig deeply into one form of difference to make a broader point. My approach is inductive rather than deductive. I generalize to the broader topic of diversity by looking at one form of it. (Deductive reasoning moves from the general to the specific.) I really believe that, if we develop awareness and tools in appreciating and leveraging gender differences, we develop “muscles” that can be applied to other kinds of difference.
- Women represent nearly 47% of the business workforce but much smaller percentages at leadership levels. If a workplace wants to improve engagement and leverage talents of any group that is under-represented, why not start with the largest one – women?
- I am a white woman with a background in business and law. I feel competent to talk about the issue of women in business. I have not experienced racial discrimination or biases as a result of sexual orientation or a physical limitation. I can speak with authority in this one area of difference and have less credibility in other areas.
- We all live and work with both genders. We can laugh about differences in men and women (I frame it as differences in masculine and feminine). And we have lots of opportunity to observe and practice understanding and appreciating this type of difference.
- My passion is unleashing the power and strength of women as well as men in business and in the world. I cannot make much of a contribution to solving world hunger or global warming. I can make my contribution in the area of my passion. The larger intent is to increase the odds that both masculine and feminine strengths are brought to bear on those big issues facing our country and our planet.
We are each here to apply our gifts and talents in some area. Having women join men in the ranks of business leadership is the area that draws me. It is what I know and where I want to make a difference.
What do you think of my “inductive” approach to diversity and inclusion?
My business (DifferenceWORKS) and my book (Difference Works) are about the value of difference. I just returned from nearly three weeks in Turkey. I saw a living lesson that things work better when there is diversity. I am no historian so forgive me if details are imperfect. The point is not dependent on historical accuracy!
Turkey was formed as a nation in 1923. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) made incredibly bold decisions to coalesce a country and establish its values, culture and identity. But he did one thing that caused great hardship and long term damage.
After the messy end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Turkey battled over possession of land. This war (1919-22) left great bitterness between the Turks and the Greeks. Atatürk and the other powers issued an order that put in motion a “population exchange.” Everyone, whether living in Greece or the new Turkey, who was Muslim was deemed to be “Turkish”; if they lived in Greece, they would be moved to Turkey. Anyone living in either country who was Christian was deemed to be “Greek” – even if they spoke and wrote no Greek. Many had lived in Turkey, speaking its language and following its customs, for decades. Christians were forced to move to Greece (many dying in the process).
Turkish towns and villages were left without the diverse populations that had lived peacefully with one another for years. I visited a true ghost town, the once bustling village of Kayakoy. The town inspired a moving novel, Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres. It chronicles the formation of Turkey, the population exchange and its impact on this town (and others like it). With the Christians gone, the Muslims found that many skills and values were now missing. The town declined and eventually died. Here are the reflections of a young man who had seen friends lose friends and even fiancés in the exchange:
I was telling my son about this poignant visit and the historical context. I summed up my point by saying, without thinking: “Difference works!” In this case a decision was made that removed difference. And it did not work!