The Two Most Valuable Types of Diversity

Not all elements of diversity are inherently good and provide value to an organization.

In our politically correct world “diversity” is usually measured by gender, age, race or skin color, ethnicity, physical handicaps, and most recently, sexual orientation.   Decades ago people might have thought about religion as a diversity element, but that’s rarely discussed today.

These are appealing to measure because they’re easily observed and have nice “optics” to outsiders.   This might be a case of OPTICS equals ” Outrageous Perception of Trivial Information Concluding Stupidity.”

My view: these measures of diversity have no practical value for organizations, and become an opportunistic distraction to divide rather than unify organizations.

There are two and only two types of diversity which are valuable to organizations:

1. Intrinsic working styles, strengths, and preferences – how individuals score on DiSC, Myers-Briggs, etc. evaluations.

2. Life experiences coupled with individual learning and skills.

Combined, these two categories of diversity dwarf any other variation.  Why?  Because the two types of diversity cover behaviors and learning. 

DiSC measures behavior, and behavior is HOW you do things:

  • How you approach problems and challenges
  • How you interact with others and influence their perspective
  • How you respond to change and pace of events
  • How you respond to procedures and authority of others

DiSC does not assess intelligence of any kind, motivation, level of education, or learned skills.

All kinds of people, represented by every kind of diversity we can measure, fall into a distribution of DiSC profiles.

Your organization needs an effective mix of skills to be successful.  You need complementary mixing of intrinsic working styles and learned skills.  You can benefit from a range of life experiences.

Let’s go back to my first sentence: ” Not all elements of diversity are inherently good and provide value to an organization. ”

Having a mix of men and women of different ages, ethnic groups, genders, and sexual orientation does not guarantee you will have an effective organization, or even a more effective organization.  I can assemble a group of High D’s in the DiSC assessment that would cover a full range of race/gender/ethnic diversity and be completely ineffective working together.  Conversely,  it’s entirely possible for an  all-white group of Lutheran wives in their 50′s living in a tiny town in northern  Minnesota to be extremely effective as a organization, because they have a mix of DiSC profiles.

Experiences of all kinds may be useful in an organization.  My father used to say, “Everything you learn will help you sometime.” You need to consider specific competencies and mastery of skills, as well as a person’s ability to learn new skills and adapt.  Good interviewing and hiring practices help you do this well.

Managers and leaders must care first about being effective — which is about generating results.   Therefore managers and leaders need to think carefully about the current level of diversity and be aware of possibilities for a superior level of diversity.

Let me speak to some of questions you might have:

“Don’t men and women bring different strengths to a group?”

From both a biological and observational perspective, men and women are different.   We have complementary strengths, which are particularly important in families and helping children become adults.   My observation is that women civilize men (read “Lord of the Flies”) and bring out our best.  The idea of an all-female Amazonian society flourishing without a strong male population is a fantasy.

Men and women have a very similar distribution of DiSC and Meyers-Briggs profiles.

Leaders need to consider the needs of the organization, and what mix of behaviors and experiences  helps you be effective.  Your organization might need women or men in specific roles just because of your customer service or the nature of your product!   Team cohesion in certain situations might mean paying attention to gender issues more.  But you should always start with behaviors and experience considerations first.

“Don’t we need to make up for discrimination in the past? You write this as a white male of privilege.”

I’m not speaking about political or civic issues here but what makes for effective organizations.

I am a white male, brought up in a good family, and while I’ve worked hard I also acknowledge that by world standards I was born on third base.   I’m fully aware that I, being human, have biases and prejudices that filter my observations and can color my analysis.

But please address my analysis that the two types of diversity are far more significant for organizations than age, skin color, gender, ethnic background, etc.   What data do you have?  What do you suggest we do as organizational leaders?

Genetically, if you take out the X and Y chromosomes, every human being in history is at least 98% the same as everyone else.  The whole variation of the history of our species is less than 2% at the DNA level!   The variation of DiSC profiles is far higher.

“So you’re in favor of discrimination?”

Since the 1960′s the word ‘discrimination’ has been used to describe bias against multiple diversity factors such as gender, race, and age.  There are now laws against that kind of discrimination, though similar laws are not uniformly present worldwide.

The deepest meaning of discrimination is to be discerning and decide between two things.  Leaders must always be discriminating in that way.

Observation: The Bible never speaks of race.  It does speak of people groups (ethnae) and nations.  Common language, history, and the worldview stories a people group share are much more powerful and aligning than skin color or race.

Let me summarize my key points again:

Not all elements of diversity are inherently good and provide value to an organization.

There are two and only two types of diversity which are valuable to organizations:

1. Intrinsic working styles, strengths, and preferences

2. Life experiences coupled with individual learning and skills.