March 8th, 2016
One of the tendencies that I increasingly see among organizations and leaders in their definitions of diversity is to lump it together with commonality. Not a small number of times I have heard or read the statement “diversity is the sum total of our differences and similarities…”
I think that you should stop doing that.
The word diversity means difference and difference has very different dynamics than similarity or affinity. They are both important, and conversations about inclusion need to explore both, they are the yin and the yang of human interaction. But they are different things, different ingredients, they impact us in different ways. If we are going to move this work forward, we have to be much more precise and logical with our language…and we desperately need a strong foundational grasp on the impact that real and perceived difference has on human interaction.
This work is littered with warm, fuzzy and incredibly vague language that is useful for parading our intentions in front of others but not useful for informing action.
Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are all mathematical functions, they exist in the same context, but they are different things. They manipulate numbers and process information in different ways. If we lumped them together we would have a mess and the clear, consistent, and common language of basic mathematics would no longer exist. If we simply said that addition is the adding and / or subtracting of numbers, we would actually be making a thing into a different thing and that new thing would come with significantly less clarity.
One of the things that I hear most frequently after a workshop or a presentation is this- “I thought I got it, but I didn’t and now I see that.” I cannot emphasize enough the need for clear, concise and consistent language. Diversity and inclusion remain, in 2016, some of the most poorly understood and commonly misunderstood issues in the workplace.
Clarity is the ultimate power tool. If language is not your first intervention, there is likely an expiration date on your efforts.
Diversity and affinity are both things that exist between all human beings and we need to understand them both, but they are different things. Our conversation about both of them suffers if we lump them together.
Be good to each other.