I know you thought I was going to say “our strength lies in our diversity.” That (and similar messages) are prevalent. We have diversity committees, VPs of Diversity, affirmative action plans and call minority candidates “diverse candidates.” (Which drives me absolutely insane, but that’s another topic.)
When we moved to Switzerland we enrolled our daughter in one of the most “diverse” schools on the planet. If you were to wander down the halls you would see children with skin colors in all possible shades and colors. A map outside my daughter’s classroom identifies the home country for each child in the class. Several of the children in her class spoke little to no English at the beginning of the school year.
To add to the mix, many of the children are from mixed culture marriages–mom is from one country, dad is from another, and they are living in a third country.
The school is highly successful. It has an outstanding reputation. High schoolers go on to great universities. They have less of a problem with bullying than other schools. It’s all that diversity, right? Children are exposed to different cultures and therefore learn to respect others, right?
Well, sure. I love that aspect. But, in terms of true diversity (or differences), I have never been involved in a less diverse organization.
Here is how the children are the same:
- Same socio-economic class. (True, some kids have more money than others, but there is a definite floor.)
- Educated parents.
- All have been the “new kid” and know what that feels like.
- They have all lived outside their home country.
- Stable home life. (Definite exceptions, but a look through the school directory yields only one single parent household. My guess is that single parents don’t do the international career thing as often because of custody and other issues.)
- A majority have a stay-at-home parent.
- Education is seen as a priority by the parents.
Yes, their native languages vary. Their skin and hair colors cover the entire range of possibilities. Religions run the gamut. There is definite diversity. But there is definite unity as well.
So is it the diversity or the unity that makes the school so successful? I’d say both. The students learn a lot from each other. Different ideas are brought out in almost all activities. But, the things that unify them are strong as well.
If you grabbed a bunch of random kids from different countries and threw them together, would you get the great results this school gets? I doubt it. You’d run into many problems that the unify factors tend to nullify.
So, what does this mean for companies and hiring? I think it means that as you are looking towards diversity as the savior of your company, you also need to look towards unity. What things make your employees unified? Is there a shared company culture? Are there goals that everyone works towards?
Sometimes we get so focused on our diversity that we forget that we need unity in order to make things work. Without that, you have an interesting dinner party, but no road map for success. With both the unifying factors and the rich diversity of experience, you can achieve greater things.