Let’s talk about diversity
Lately, I have been trying to understand what diversity means. So far, I have found that one of the issues that surrounds this concept is the fact that we see diversity as accepting that there are different things that exist outside the boundaries of what we consider “normal”. Because of this, every time I discovered something new or “different” from what I considered to be “normal”, I found myself struggling to understand it and accept it, which generated a lot of questions. This is probably why younger generations seem to be fragile and sensitive, but it’s really due to the fact they are starting to question many things we didn’t question before, or at least not out loud.
In my quest to understand diversity, I came across the book Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities, which helped me begin to wrap my head around the larger diversity discussion.
In the book, the author (Walker, 2021) explains why developing an understanding on diversity entails a paradigm shift. According to the author, the idea of paradigm refers to a set of fundamental assumptions or principles, a mindset or frame that shapes how one thinks and talks about a given subject (Walker, 2021, p.17). In this sense, the idea that we have about what is “normal” and what is “different” constitutes the paradigm we have on diversity. Therefore, a paradigm shift is necessary in our quest to understand and build diversity.
Such change, is a shift in our fundamental assumptions that requires us to redefine our terms, recalibrate our language, rephrase our questions, reinterpret our data, and completely rethink our basic concepts and approaches (Walker, 2021, p.17). As an example, when humanity discovered that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, but instead, the earth rotated around the sun, a paradigm shift was born, in which a lot of questions that where important before became nonsense, like “what is the orbit of mars around the earth?”. However, some other questions that didn’t make any sense before, suddenly became meaningful, like “how does our solar system move around the galaxy and the universe?”.
Now, let’s talk about some examples of diversity that can show how this paradigm needs or can be shifted.
It seems that I’m out of topic, but here’s where things start to make sense. The current paradigm around people that are neurodivergent like autistic people, is that they have a pathological issue that needs to be cured or treated.
Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species (Walker, 2021, p.34).
But if we changed the paradigm to a neurodiversity paradigm, we would understand that there is no “normal” when we talk about people’s minds, instead, neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity. Just as it could be by culture, gender, sexual orientation and so on and so forth.
When we shift the pathological paradigm to a neurodiversity paradigm, we rethink our basic concepts to understand that we all have different type of minds, and we find each other better ways to work, communicate and co-exists embracing this diversity.
Let’s see another example of paradigm shift in gender identity and sexual orientation.
For me, it was really hard to understand that each year there was another character in the LGTBQ+ community, making it hard for me to recall what was the meaning of each character, and keeping me up to the new ones.
It was even harder for me when I was unaware of what was coming. I was not prepared, and I didn’t know how to handle it or act in specific situations.
My first though was: when is it going to end? what is going to be the next thing around this?
But then when I learned about paradigm and paradigm shift, it was clear to me what this is about, I did a shift on my paradigm around gender identity and sexual orientation: people’s genitals don’t define their gender identity, sexual orientation or abilities for performing a job.
So when I changed my paradigm, it was clear that the diversity around this topic it’s huge, and every character in the LGTBQ+ community is just groups of people getting together around their identities.
Now is clear to me that if I approach someone that I didn’t know before, it’s not obvious what their gender identity is, or their sexual orientation, as their genitals are not attached to their identity.
Generally, we identify as “normal” the customs, practices and identities that are common in the culture in which we grew up, and we define as foreign every other culture. Starting with the differentiation the world by eastern and western cultures, all the way down to the identify we generate around our city, or even the neighborhood we live.
Last decades we are seeing how internet is helping to close or increase those differentiations by redefining the cultural identity of people and changing the meaning of normal, but still generating a comparison between cultures and classifying them by worst or better than ours. Which leads to discrimination in multiple ways.
But if we shifted the paradigm to understand that there isn’t a normal, and we are all different, but no one’s worst or better, we imply that when two different cultures meet each other, both parties have to work through their differences to interact, communicate and work together.
All in all…
Let’s go back to what Wannabe does. When we see companies talking about diversity, we only see numbers like the ratio of women and men in the team, or number of nationalities working together.
That’s not a good measurement on how diverse a company is. There is a lot of work between having diverse people working together and creating a culture that embrace diversity. That type of culture creates a safe environment where the word “normal” doesn’t exist, and every body make a shift on paradigms. I list a few of them on this blog post, but I’m sure there are more I’m not talking about.
Diversity in companies helps to see how products can be more inclusive for a world that is built for strong majorities. Create products that are for every person.
I propose to change diversity metrics by one that measures quantity and another measuring quality.
You can see when a company doesn’t understand diversity where the gender options are only men and women. Or a place where if your nationality is a minority you’re the only one that needs to change to fit, instead of accepting and learning from your differences. Or even a place where turning on a camera is obligatory because they can’t understand there is neurodiverse people that are not comfortable with that.
For sure companies that don’t understand diversity will have more employee attrition on those people that are diverse and where forced to fit.
Tell me in the comments what type of diversity you feel identified and if you ever found a work culture where you could be what you wannabe.
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