Diversity of Groups or Diversity of Ideas?

collage of many faces

We have all heard the chorus of experts telling us that business success depends on our diversity policies. The champions of diversity tell us diversity must be central to our strategy and organizational culture. The reason given is that as companies become more global, we must reflect a more global perspective.

While I agree with the basic concept of the value of diversity, I think there are dangers here that we should consider. But first, let’s talk about the benefits of diversity.

First, accessing a diversity of perspectives can help us avoid blindspots. No individual has a perfect understanding of reality. We need to hear from others to gain insight into the issues facing our organization. Being able to tap into these diverse perspectives will help us avoid our own cultural blindspots.

Second, increased diversity will help us serve more people. It may help us identify a niche of need and opportunity formerly hidden to us.

Third, an emphasis on diversity can help the company enjoy the insights of all its people. Great ideas don’t always come from the top. Ideas have a strange ability to surface from the most surprising sources.

Fourth, diversity creates a fair work environment where all feel they belong. This sense of inclusion affects employee satisfaction. Happy employees perform better.

The problem with the diversity movement is that it focuses too much on ethnic diversity and not enough on idea diversity. It does this because it fails to see people as diverse individuals. It treats individuals as members of a group and assumes that all members of that group think the same.

I talked about this with my students at a small primarily African-American college in Memphis. We were talking about how they voted during the 2008 election. One student admitted, “I voted for Obama because he was our first black president.” I asked if she voted for Herman Cain during the 2012 presidential election. She said, “Oh no! He’s a Republican.” She thought she was voting for diversity. In fact she was voting for homogeneity of ideas. Cain’s race was not a factor because his ideas did not conform to her ideology.

When you focus on diversity of skin color, nationality, sex, age—whatever other group category in your repertoire—then diversity of ideas becomes secondary. Ideology becomes the new basis for discrimination. Conformity to an ideology becomes the new orthodoxy. Those who espouse alternative ideas become the heretics. Diversity of groups replaces true diversity of ideas.

The current emphasis about diversity is healthy as long as it creates an environment where diversity of ideas can flourish. Diversity of ethnicity or gender or age will not help your organization unless you also allow for and encourage diversity of ideas. When the diversity champions only focus on group identity, we end up shutting down dialogue about ideas.

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

Photo by geralt. Photo available at Pixabay under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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