“While there can be value in talking about cognitive diversity as a different kind of diversity, there is no way to truly divorce it from identity.” – Joe Gerstandt

I used to focus quite a bit of my work on diversity of thought, or cognitive diversity, which speaks to differences in thinking styles, heuristics, and perspectives that exist between people. My original approach to D&I work was built around identity diversity, cognitive diversity, affective diversity, and behavioral diversity, with a heavy focus on the cognitive piece, largely due to research linking cognitive diversity with improved problem-solving and decision-making. I knew these were things that mattered, even inside of organizations that were not particularly serious about diversity in general. It seemed an opportunity to get a toehold for this work, something that we could build on. I personally have always liked and referred to the work of Scott Page on this topic. Page is a professor of Complex Systems and Economics, has served on the Santa Fe Institute faculty, and I felt his language, models, and research were a uniquely valuable contribution to this work. Some audiences need some science.

I eventually had to stop focusing on diversity of thought though because something kept happening.

When my presentation or my workshop ended, there was always a handful of folks that were in a big hurry to let me know that they really enjoyed my message, “finally, something on diversity that makes sense,” “this is the kind of diversity that actually matters.”

Which was not the message I was hoping to deliver.

At first I just tried to be more clear and explicit in my message. While there can be value in talking about cognitive diversity as a different kind of diversity, there is no way to truly divorce it from identity. One of the things that informs how you interpret things, how you categorize, how you generate solutions is who you are, where you have come from, and the culture that has shaped you. In Geography of Thought, for example, Richard Nisbett makes some very convincing linkages between your culture and how you see the world.

Joe Gerstandt, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Joe Gerstandt, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

But I eventually had to stop talking at length about cognitive diversity as I was still getting many of the same responses. There is already a great deal of work being done in the name of “diversity,” and “inclusion” that is actually counter-productive, to which I do not wish to contribute.

I know some folks who today consider the phrase “diversity of thought,” a red flag and I understand why. It is a way out for folks looking for a way out.

We, myself included, got far too good at, almost manically reminding everyone that “diversity is not just about race!” almost as soon as the topic enters conversation. While there is indeed a whole big heap of ways in which human beings naturally differ from each other, race has got to be seen as a large and central piece of the work at hand.

Truth be told, the word “diversity,” inside most organizations has simply been code for “race,” for a long time, which also tells us something about the apathy and resistance that the word invites.

When we care not about work associated largely with race, and yet come to care greatly about it as it moves away from race, it is revealing, I think.

I see it in the workplace, I see it online, I see it among HR practitioners and leaders – a desire to only validate, only speak to, only engage with one particular dimension of a much broader body of work.

If you work in human resources or talent, if you manage humans, teach or preach to humans, market to or design for humans, if your work is to govern humans, judge, police or care for humans, then you should take great care, it seems, to not pick and choose the aspects of humanity that you like or approve of because it will shape your world, and in no small way.

It will also shape the experiences of others.

If you have come to believe that race is a problem – then race is going to be a problem in your world.

Human beings are different in countless ways. And if ours is going to be work that in an honest way is informed by and values humanity, if we are actually going to humanize the world of work and not just brand ourselves that way, then we must dig humanity. All of it.

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