Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Diversity by design

There’s a university and an organisation I know about which promote and protect diversity. Much more than some others do.  And consistently deliver results. Also much more than some others do. Whether their performance is because of the diversity in their fabric, or in spite of it, is a matter best left to your wisdom and dispensation.
The university promotes and protects diversity by design.

If you have a graduate degree in any discipline you can seek admission to any of the post graduate courses there. Admission tests for different courses are conducted on separate days to allow the applicants a shot at many of them. While the question papers are in English, you can choose to write your answers in any of the listed languages. You have to answer any five out of the twenty five questions asked. Even without prior background or preparation, you will always find your five questions to answer, since seven or eight questions usually pertain to topics of general interest.
Such open practices and other unrevealed algorithms of the admissions process guarantee that every new batch has a fair representation of students from different regions, ethnicities, social classes, and income groups.
Attending classes is not mandatory. You can take books to refer to during the exams. If you miss a test, professors will be quite comfortable to have you write a term paper and assign grades.  You can register for elective courses in any other department. There are neither curfew hours nor boundary walls in the hostels. The academic, administrative and financial councils of the institution have student representatives. Spontaneous teacher and student support against injustice and wrongdoing is a common sight. Talent is on full display all the while and everywhere. Dissenters turn into collaborators and yet again into dissenters with ease.
Pick any student, and ask what is best about the place. Most likely, you will get the answer, “I can be me”.

Ask any teacher whether every student's 'I can be me' adversely affects the university's basic character and purpose. Most likely, you will get the answer, "not at all; the elements of our core remain unaffected, since, no student, even while acting and thinking alone, is against them".
Switch your attention to the organisation now. It is a multinational, which gradually turned diverse in the course of entering and growing in different markets. The more diverse people, practices, views and ideas it assimilated, the more it appreciated the needs and benefits of diversity.
In recent years, its focus on diversity has become sharper, since it serves a more diverse set of stakeholders and customers, needs diverse skills, and seeks to grow its sources of talent. That much is by design.
In its operations in a particular country though, the promotion and protection of diversity happened by accident. The organisation grew so fast there that it hired good people of all types from just about anywhere. As a result, it now has lots of different models of success and ways of working for any employee to emulate. Lots of stereotypes stand broken. Every person finds at least some like-minded, even non-like-minded, supporters. And concludes, “the place does support me to be me”. The organisation has one more step to take, from ‘supporting’ its people to be themselves to ‘desiring’ that they be so.
Other organisations, where such an accident hasn't happened, and who are focussed exclusively on improving the diversity demographics, need to also get to a point where an employee would say, “looks like people here really want me to be me”.
By design.


  1. I believe such organizations are growing .. mostly small and entrepreneurial in nature, they focus on bringing like-minded people together and then pursue meaningful work in a manner, best described as "Purposeful Meandering" ... One of the most recent ones I came across is mysunnybalcony.com - a small team that is transforming the face of balcony gardens in Bangalore ... can't help but cheer...

  2. Thanks Shweta. I suspected it was you driving up my readership in HK :-)
    One of my two professional objectives at this time is to get together an informal group of 50 good professionals of diverse fields to do different work and work differently in order to make their future work. I think you meant to leave this comment on that piece ? Best wishes, and a happy new year.

  3. Hello again ... while the network point was related to the other article, I was trying to make a point about organizations that are letting people being themselves (Letting Me be Me) ... I think it is similar to the concept of "when the student is ready, the teacher arrives" ... so also it is with knowledge workers .. because people are increasingly willing to deal with flexible earnings, building careers around learning themes (rather than promotions) and minimal to non-existent benefits, organizations are beginning to see the value in this as well ... Happy New Year and Best Wishes to you too