There are benefits to diverse ideas.
In February 2015, the below photograph of a dress went viral. There were more than 10 million tweets about the dress in the first week alone. Was the dress #whiteandgold or #blackandblue?
Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist fascinated with human perception, would probably have been enthralled by this debate. He believes that even though our senses deliver data to the brain, it is the brain that assembles the data into information that is meaningful. In other words, our brains convert light into color.
Lotto also stresses that we never see the world as it is, only the world that is useful to us. In a TED Talk, he proved his theories through optical illusions where he revealed just how much of our behavior, thoughts and understanding are grounded in unconscious (and often biased) assumptions. The very idea that two people can look at a photograph and see completely different colors proves this hypothesis.
What other assumptions are we inadvertently making? Which begs us to ask the question, “Do you see what I see?”
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.
But if you utter the word “diversity” in the corporate world, you are often met with indifference (or a nod towards political correctness). Across too many businesses, diversity issues amount to little more than a token sentence or two in the employee handbook.
As Lotto highlights, we do all see the world a little differently, and by embracing this we can make diversity the ribbon that ties a firm together. It can help businesses to reflect how the real world lives, works, eats and breathes.
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 parts of the world. In a relatively short amount of time, society has made a lot of progress. But there is still a lot to do.
The simplest thing any one of us can do is to challenge lazy stereotypes.
For example, societal conditioning continues to reinforce gender biases. This starts in early childhood with toys designated for girls or boys, which restricts choices for both genders. The stereotyping continues through school and into the workplace.
We also need to understand that not everyone views diversity in the same way. Some are simply unaware there’s a problem at all. Some think there’s an issue, but we only need to fix the women. Not enough realize 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 the color-combination you see in the dress, keep in mind that few people, if anyone, sees the world exactly as you do. The results of applying just a little bit of empathy might be astounding.
Credit: © Tang Yau Hoong/Ikon Images/Corbis