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The Advantage of Diversity in the Workplace

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Actually, I see the advantage of using a pocket knife with only one tool out at a time. And of not capitalizing words in the middle of sentences.

Diversity is a big thing where I work. Every year employees attend workshops designed to instill an appreciation for it (along with its buddy, inclusiveness). I’ve always thought of myself as being fully onboard with the whole D&I thing, but I saw a poster today on my way in today that made me wonder.

As you can see in the image to the right, the poster attempts to convince the viewer of the value of diversity by comparing a typical, multi-faceted pocketknife with one that only only has corkscrews. Now, I know the idea is to show that having various tools at your disposal is generally more useful than only having one, but the analogy breaks down quickly if you think about it.

What if, for example, my job was to remove corks? Wouldn’t I want the pocketknife full of corkscrews – particularly if the corkscrews tended to break or wear out?

More generally, the poster gives the impression that a each type of person has – no, better yet, is designed for – a certain type of use. Type A is intended for doing task A, type B for task B, etc. – and this hardly argues for diversity. Instead, it suggests hiring the types of people that match well with the job description tasks.

Now, that may seem like an obvious statement. (I mean, who wouldn’t want someone who fit the job description.) The whole idea of diversity, however, is to step outside those bounds, isn’t it?

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I think diversity is overrated and often is used as an excuse to to indulge prejudices by hiring someone other than the best applicant.

In times like now, when numbers are cut to the bare minimum, it is most important that everyone in the team can pull their weight on the mainstream activity of the team. To decide to hire, say, a black woman, for the sake of diversity, when the team activity is something like rounding up cattle, and in a place where skilled black female cowboys are very scarce, is pretty dumb.

Actually it is a dumb reason for hiring anyone anywhere if your job is to get the owner of the business the best possible value from his wages budget. I say, by all means hire people with a diverse range of skills, but try to ignore race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and other similar factors if they are irrelevant to the nature of your business.

What if, for example, my job was to remove corks?

Those aren’t really the types of jobs this push for diversity are meant for, though. Seldom are jobs in the modern day workplace single skill tasks requiring one tool to perform. You must know from your own experience the wide array of skills required in an engineering environment.

Instead, it suggests hiring the types of people that match well with the job description tasks.

The cognitive diversity people have, even when they are working in matching job descriptions is what makes this “sum greater than the whole of its parts” work well in many instances. Somehow though, ethnic diversity, gender diversity and every other diversity that has nothing necessarily to do with skills in the workplace have become vaguely intertwined into one mixed message of: “diversity for its own sake is always good”.

Where I used to work (“Evil Multinational Defense Corp A”), there was an almost maniacal amount of attention to diversity. To the effect of an unofficial mandate for recruiters that 50% of all new recruits had to be minority, female, or preferably both.

There was also a large initative to unify the company’s culture. As many big companies have, it had morphed over the years via mergers and acquisitions. (a guy down the hall from me had a posting on his wall with six different business cards from six different companies. All with the same cube number and phone.)

Isn’t that somewhat incongruous to unify the culture while touting diversity?

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