Friday, 13 October 2017

Diversity in thinking about Diversity

There has been a lot of talk of diversity in tech. This has been building for a while which is awesome, specifically around women in tech. I can still remember when it was inconceivable that you could be a software engineer without a degree of some kind. Although the movement is glacial, there is movement which is one reason to be cheerful.

I had a pause to think about diversity recently. I have worked in all male teams and there is definitely a different energy. When there is a mix it feels different - it's not something that I can explain but I can recognise it even if I can't explain it.

What I am a little worried about is that thoughts about diversity seem to stop at gender. What about other types of diversity, which we seem blind to?

How about age? How many 50+ do you have in your team or organisation? Given that we will be working into our 70's, what does that say about our industries view on experience? Where do all the 'old' developers go? If you were to band your developers by age, what would that look like? Are we happy with the diversity of ages that we would find?

I am currently working in a team which speak over 10 languages between them. Lots of people have a different cultural background. This is a great bit of diversity to celebrate! Each person has a different way of communicating, thinking about problems and working with people. I can see differences in how people pair, discuss and even get annoyed. We can all learn something from differing ways of interacting with people.

Where I really started to think was when I thought about neurological diversity, covering conditions such as Autism. I think these are currently labelled incorrectly under disability in most organisations.

Neurodiversity helps us understand that people with Autism, who see and experience the world differently to most people, have natural variations in their physical neurology. I don't identify this with disability. By pulling these into the light of diversity, we quickly see problems with our workplaces.

From the outset, neurodiversity is hampered by our recruitment processes. We typically have a process and for most with Autism this would be a big challenge. There has been some fantastic thinking about by Microsoft, which is well worth a look.

Is it 'the' way it should be done? Probably not - but it's represents people thinking about the barriers in place that are stopping a more diverse workplace. There is a beautiful saying that if you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism... each person is different so no one approach will work universally.

Most of us find interviews stressful, so thinking this same process would be fit for someone with Autism feels very unfair. At worst, could it be purposely shaping our workplace by stopping certain types of people from being able to join our organisations in the first place?

If we make it though that barrier, I think our workplaces are actually quite hostile. We often work under time pressures, in noisy environments which you cannot control and mandate ways of working that some people may find hard or even distressing. For people who are stressed out by the workplace alone, is it fair to add commercial pressures? What does our responsibility as people manager look like in this scenario?

Taking this further, what about career progression? Do our current methods of assessing people for promotions in an organisation work in a workforce which is purposefully neurodiverse? Certainly matrix style assessments could be so explicit that they effectively rule out career progression for certain people, obviously taking us away from a fair employment culture.

So the next time you hear about embracing diversity, maybe ask a few questions about what people think this is and where is stops for your organisation.

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