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Do you see what I see?

The benefits of diverse views

In February 2015, a photograph of the dress below went viral. With more then ten million tweets mentioning the dress in the first week alone. Was the dress #whiteandgold or #blackandblue?

I suspect that Beau Lotto, a Neuroscientist fascinated with human perception, would have been enthralled by this debate. He believes that while the senses deliver data to the brain, it is the brain that assembles the data into information that is meaningful - thus it is the brain that converts light into colour.

Lotto therefore stresses that we never see the world as it is, only the world that is useful to us. In a fascinating TED Talk, he proves his theories through optical illusions where he reveals to us just how much of our behaviour, thoughts and understanding are grounded in unconscious (often biased) assumptions.

By remembering that we only see the world that is useful to us as individuals, we can start to look for what else may be hidden in plain sight and ask the question, “Do you see what I see?”

The very idea that two people can look at a photograph and see completely different colours is startling: it would not occur to most of us that this could be possible. What other assumptions are we inadvertently making?

Mark Twain once said: “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” The point is that diversity of views is important to gain a broader perspective. Yet if you utter the words ‘diversity’ in the corporate world you are often met with indifference or a nod towards "political correctness". For far too many businesses, diversity issues amount to little more than a token sentence or two in the induction guide. As Lotto highlights, we do all see the world a little differently, and by embracing this we can make diversity the ‘blue’ ribbon that ties a firm together. It can help our business to reflect how the real world lives, works, eats and breaths and so should be welcomed and celebrated.

Societal conditioning often reinforces gender biases for example, starting in early childhood with toys designated for "girls" or "boys", which restricts choices for both girls and boys.

So how do we create more diverse workplaces?

The simplest thing any one of us can do is to challenge lazy stereotypes. The world has come a long way in the past century. One hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote in most of the world. In a relatively short space of time, society has made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot more to do.

Societal conditioning often reinforces gender biases for example, starting in early childhood with toys designated for "girls" or "boys", which restricts choices for both girls and boys. And the stereotyping continues through school and into the workplace.

We also need to understand that not everyone views the situation in the same way. Some are simply unaware there’s a problem at all. Some think there’s an issue but we just need to fix the women. Not enough realise that we need to start by fixing the system – through tackling unintended bias in our processes and procedures around recruitment, performance evaluation, promotion and pay. With greater awareness of the benefits of diversity, and increased collaboration to address the barriers, we can help our current and future work environments flourish.

Regardless of which colour dress you see, it is useful to remember that not everyone, in fact, possibly very few, sees the world as you do. The results of applying just a little bit of empathy might be astounding.

Credit:© Tang Yau Hoong/Ikon Images/Corbis

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