Diversity – a Soft approach


Is Diversity the same thing as Equality? Do the two get confused?

I’m reminded about what I’ve learnt about the Spanish Olive Harvest. In the process of harvesting olives, men and women know that they each have strengths. The men have learnt that they are good at the heavy lifting and the women tend to be better at the gathering. If they play to these strengths they can get the job of harvesting the olives done together. This is what they do – and they tend to have a good party together after.

This is real diversity – we appreciate positive differentiation between people – the things that make them different – we honour each and work together to make the most of those diverse talents in service of the whole.

In many workplaces I see equality being pursued as an output measure. In this quest we are missing out on two things that are far more important. First, the opportunity to spend more time understanding both how we are different – genuine diversity – and to make that work for us. Second, to spend time understanding the beliefs and assumptions that drive the behaviours in the current workplace that are causing output inequality of which we complain.

If we are honest with ourselves we know that the outputs we want to achieve are a result of the behaviour in the workplace itself. These are in turn caused by the beliefs and assumptions we operate under. By concerning ourselves more with these latter things, at the base of the diagram below, we can drive the former, the outputs, at the peak.


The real point of equality is that we should treat each other with equal respect and provide a place of work which welcomes all. For equality to really work it has to exist in the base layers of the diagram rather than being strived for by the people who measure these things in the top layer. Equality at the input level is what matters. We all have to care about these issues whatever sex or gender we are.

Measuring the gender mix of the heavy lifters – output equality – might not help us to achieve equality but making sure that everyone enjoys the harvest and contributes as they wish – input equality – might.

I’m worried that we have created a working environment – particularly in high value professional services like law firms – that is overly suited to one type of worker – the dedicated workaholic – and not particularly friendly to others who work differently. We’d like the others to be more present but the reality is that everything that is done in terms of behaviour drives them away. There is little point in thinking of equality as a output measure if the behaviours all around you ostracise the very people you need encourage.

Soft is a way of having a conversation about these things and starting to appreciate why we get ourselves in this bind so that we can change it. Soft is also a welcoming behaviour to all. Hard simply fights and inevitably looses. Which would you rather do?


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