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Diversity – moving beyond tribal thinking


Diversity – moving beyond tribal thinking

There is more Diversity in the world and while we usually associate the word tribe with indigenous cultures or a more primitive society, it could be argued that the world is more tribal now than it ever has been. There’s the Apple products tribe, the gym-going tribe, the liberal tribe, the southside tribe, the Liverpool tribe, the yoga tribe, the Brown Thomas tribe, the designer handbag tribe. To what tribes do you belong?

And then there’s politics. The Brexit and Remain tribes, Republican and Democrat tribes, Sinn Fein supporters and the ‘never Sinn Fein’ tribe, the Trump supporters and Trump haters. As algorithms control our feeds on social media, combined with our innate habit of seeking evidence to validate existing beliefs and outlooks (we all like to be right!) tribes have become more entrenched.

Diversity social identity
Social Identity

After the Second World War psychologist Henri Tajfel wanted to know how seemingly ordinary people could commit genocide. He wanted to discover how easy or difficult it would be to get people to identify with one group and discriminate against others.

Tajfel tested subjects by having them perform meaningless tasks. Each person was then allocated to a group, based on their answer. When the groups were formed and asked to distribute real, tangible rewards, they became loyal to their own group and discriminated against the other group. Many variations on this experiment have been performed over the years.

I remember watching an episode of The Oprah Show where the audience was divided into different groups based on eye colour as an exercise on racism. What these social experiments all illustrate is that people can develop group loyalty very quickly, even in the absence of any real or substantive differences.

We all have the need to belong, to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. Tajfel’s experiment showed that as people we have an inherent tendency to categorise ourselves into groups. Part of our identity is defined by group affiliations, and boundaries are established, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, to keep other groups separate. Just think of the loyalty of soccer fans and the inclusive language used when speaking about their teams (‘we’ had a great win at the weekend.)

When I’m working in companies, I listen to the pronouns used in conversations at water coolers. Are there plenty of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ (management v staff, front office v back office, competing business functions) or, is the word ‘we’ more prevalent? This observation provides clues as to the different ‘tribes’ or silos within the organisation and the volume of effort required to adjust culture (the unwritten rules as to how we do things) to move in the direction of greater cohesion or unity.

Diversity No

Whilst ultimately we are all people trying to do and be our best in the world, the last few years have seen a growth in intolerance, and a lack of compassion and understanding towards those who wear a different societal label, or appear to be in a different ‘tribes’ to us. Without curiosity about others and a willingness to at least be open to alternative viewpoints, society will continue to become more polarised.

It’s no coincidence that to balance this polarisation increasing emphasis is placed on embracing diversity. It is certainly one of the biggest trends in companies. It’s not just because at the heart of diversity is a basic respect for the individual, but companies that embrace diversity are harnessing a spectrum of perspectives and previously untapped potential.

As people, we all want the same thing, to express the highest, truest, fullest expression of ourselves. And how we express this is our unique gift and contribution to the world.

I came across this Danish advert recently that in three minutes will dissolve the boxes, the surface labels we can so easily place on people. It’s well worth watching.

“No one is perfect but we are all perfectly ourselves.”


I hope you enjoyed this post and if you want to make 2020 the best year possible check out this post

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