Socially Constructed Diversity – The meaning of differences lies in the eye of the beholder

Should minority members immediately and automatically latch onto diversity issues and causes?  If a minority member wants to free herself from the bond of categories, wouldn’t assuming another category, Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, etc. be just as binding?  When a minority member has experienced profound and prolonged persecution from the society, it is perfectly understandable why this person may want to align with his minority group.  As the United States is moving toward a society in which non-white will become the majority, the term “diversity” will take on different meanings, different struggles, and different dynamics.

For this post, what I really want to discuss is another layer of diversity that’s often missed, ignored, or totally unacknowledged: the introvert–extrovert continuum.  This continuum cuts across so many other categories that we need to study it more.  Susan Cain’s “Quiet:  The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking,” demonstrates that a lot of management practices are based on extroverts’ worldviews.  Many of these practices are endorsed and advocated by business schools which are run by, yes, mostly extroverts.

A wonderful place for extroverts to get energy

Let me just discuss one aspect delineated in the book:  Brainstorming.  It’s a terrible and unwelcoming idea for introverts, and it’s proven to be not all that effective even if only extroverts participate in such a session.  Yet, like several concepts that have been proven wrong, such as tying executive pay to company performance, motivating employees with little carrots and big sticks, or emphasizing competition in any circumstances, industries still hold onto them.  However, working by internet connections, brainstorming can be very effective if the process is managed well.  Not surprisingly, most computer technologies and internet services have been brought about largely by introverts.

In other words, introverts need time and space for processing information and contemplation to achieve better productivity.  What’s more, it turns out that allowing time and space is rather conducive for extroverts too.

A truly diversified working environment is structured to allow people of various working styles to be able to choose their own time and place to work.  Research demonstrates that introverts are more willing and comfortable with cooperating with others, if they are allowed to choose when and where to do the cooperative tasks.  Some well-known high-tech companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Pixar, have created different and open environments that encourage people to create more spontaneous conversations, i.e. not scheduled meetings, and cooperative work habits.  Far more creative and innovative activities have come out of such environments than from the tried-and-not-very-true brainstorming.

a setting much more to my liking

Today’s working world is very different from when Robert Townsend ran Avis in the 60s.  But in his Up the Organization, he did have a few paragraphs on “racism.”  He understood it clearly by saying that “stamping out racism will be a process, not an act.”  I wonder what he would have thought and practiced on the issue of diversity and the introvert-extrovert continuum.  I conjecture – and he did advocate – that he would say something like the following:  The best way to tap into an employee’s talent is to find out what she’s really good at and to match the job with her qualifications and working styles.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the dads out there!

I will continue on this continuum.  Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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