The rank scent of ranking

If we want to measure diversity how do we go about it? Typically we identify a set of categories and then sort people, objects, characteristics, situations, etc. into these categories (I’ll leave the issue of how challenging it is to discover useful categories for a future post). It’s a bit like botany or zoology where someone is trying to identify the species to which a plant or animal belongs. This sort of measurement is referred as nominal measurement because you are sorting whatever is being measured into named groups. Names, however, are a bit cumbersome, particularly if we are collecting and sorting a large number of things, and thus we usually assign each of our categories a number. If there are two categories, for example, then perhaps we assign 0 to one of them and 1 to the other. We could, of course, have chosen the opposite assignment, 1 and 0, because the numbers are simply a handy shorthand for our categories and carry no meaning in and of themselves.

This convenience is not without its price, though, as what numbers like 0 and 1 imply for most people is at least an ordinal level of measurement. That is, introducing numbers makes people think in terms of an ordering or ranking of the categories, and, therefore, of the things being classified. And just as 1 is greater than 0, assigning the number 1 to a category suggests that it is better or of greater value than the category which was assigned the number 0. Thus these numbers, utilized only to make data gathering and record keeping simpler, may very well induce the “either/or“ thinking associated with the “if I’m right, you must be wrong” scarcity mentality we are hoping to discourage with our diversity work. The ease with which we slip into 1-0 hierarchical thinking rather than 1-1 egalitarian thinking means that while the intention behind gathering diversity data may be to highlight the variety of equally valuable ways of being that exist, through our use of numbers we may instead be perpetuating the status quo of one-up, one-down inequality.

If we take seriously the analogy with botany and zoology, however, perhaps we can begin to disconnect from the desire to make some of our categories more worthy of respect than the others and begin to see them as unordered labels that signal specialization for different environments. Just like the different beak types Darwin identified among the finch species of the Galapagos, most of our personal characteristics can’t be said to be better or worse in the absence of information about the context in which they are being used. And like plant types, character doesn’t typically have a simple scoring system. Thus let’s avoid the artificial competition of 0-1 hierarchical thinking and strive for 1-1 egalitarian thinking where we focus our energies on creating diverse groups and teams: Being our diverse selves allows us to exploit the environments in which we find ourselves and helps us be best placed to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances that make up modern life. This is the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The rank scent of ranking

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink has adopted and adapted Carol Dweck’s terminology – her fixed and growth mindsets – to talk about motivation. As I interpret his work, the fixed mindset (or the entity theorist in his terms) compels us to action through external motivators, whereas the growth mindset (or the incremental theorist in his terms) engages our desire to act through internal motivators.

“Equally important, engagement as a route to mastery is a powerful force in our personal lives. While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

p. 112

 

“ To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.) If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other it’s something you develop.

p. 121

As I read the passages quoted above, I was prompted to think about how these ideas could be applied to motivating people within the diversity context.

When you operate from a fixed mindset (entity theorists), your goals for diversity work are about demonstrating the existence of diversity. Diversity is something you have or you don’t. To demonstrate it, you create mountains of statistics, you tick off the boxes into which individuals fall and you feel you are doing well when you measure what you’ve got and the total score is a high one.

When you operate from a growth mindset (incremental theorists), your goals for diversity work are about developing the diversity that exists and finding new areas in which you and your team can grow – both by adding new members and by making the most of what is already present. Diversity has always been there and now that you recognize it, you can work to strengthen what you have. You feel you are doing well when you can see an increase in the ways in which you and others identify yourselves and in the ways all of you seek to be identified.

How is your mindset affecting the way you think about and work with diversity?

  1. Do you tend to see identity as something that is flexible or something that is fixed?
  2. Do you find yourself claiming the power to self-identify or do you feel forced live with the identities others grant or impose on you?
  3. Is diversity an ongoing journey of discovery or simply an endpoint to be reached and filed away?

Your emphasis on either the demonstration or the development of diversity has knock-on consequences: When you demonstrate diversity, typically it is a one-time thing; when you develop diversity, typically it is a continuing process. Take a look at where you fall on this continuum in the various domains of your life, and, if you find yourself on the “demonstrate performance” end of the spectrum in one or more areas, consider the follow-up question of how effectively is this mindset “getting you through the night.”

 

Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

Guest Post — Anne Smith

In a First, Engineers choose from 2 Women for President-Elect
Everyone has a stereotype for the typical engineer, and from 1852 to 2004, the American Society of Professional Engineers (ASCE) membership dutifully elected an older experienced male, “a gray hair,” to be their president. Finally, in 2004 and twice since, a female candidate has been elected over a male candidate by a majority male membership, breaking the 150 year old glass ceiling. Twelve years later, in another first, ASCE will choose from two women for President–Elect.

http://blogs.asce.org/in-a-first-asce-members-to-choose-from-two-women-for-2017-president-elect/

As an ASCE member, what I find so interesting is that this year “Gender” in itself is no longer a major reason to sway the vote. Not that gender won’t play a role, but it will be one of many influences in this campaign. For these candidates to appeal to their ASCE membership of 145,000, with a wide diversity of cultures, generations and experience, there are many bases they have to cover:

Demonstrating Experience – To be nominated both candidates had to meet a certain education, experience and ASCE leadership bar in the profession. However candidates also have to meet member expectations from different generations ranging from “have they earned it, gone through all the steps and done their time” to “are they progressive, flexible, showing initiative.”

Regional Support – This national organization is divided into 9 US regions, from Hawaii and Alaska on the west all the way to Florida and Maine in the east, and each candidate will be looking for regional support. They will each have a home region that will probably want their home candidate to win but to campaign to the rest of the diverse regions requires highly leveraging their professional and social networks.

Networking – Because of the diversity of age in the organization, networking or accessing the membership has to be multi-faceted. The older members tend to be more accessible through face-to-face contacts, professional meetings and email, whereas the younger members are sometimes only accessible through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or the social ASCE activities. The sheer numbers of members that need to be reached leads to a reliance on support of personal networks to advocate for the candidates.

Personality/Leadership Style – The candidates didn’t get where they are now by being wallflowers so they are leaders and have convinced a lot of people they can do the job. We all know from political campaigns how much personality and style can affect a potential vote for a candidate. Their own personality style and relationships will directly influence how many in their networks will jump on board to advocate for them nationally. Although there is greater personality style diversity than most people assume in engineering populations, personality style tests of several hundred engineers show that the membership is more likely to be introverted than extraverted, more likely to be detail oriented than big-picture or vision oriented, much more likely to make their decisions based on facts and logic than personal values, and more likely to be focused on structure and organization than process and flexibility. Candidates however have the challenging task of meeting the majority of members’ type needs for their buy-in and vote.

Gender and Diversity – The cultural and gender diversity is rapidly increasing especially in the membership and leadership of student and younger professional groups. In their vision statements, the candidates address elevating the engineering profession globally and improving the quality of life for members and community. They will also need to relate to many different constituencies in those groups to get their votes. So when will there be a minority woman candidate and who will be the other candidate? A minority man or woman? How will the campaign strategies differ? I see a number of candidates on the fast track now and others who probably could have been candidates in a different era! For now, let’s celebrate “The times, they are a changing” – Bob Dylan

Anne Smith, P.E.
President, Smith Culp Consulting
www.smithculp.com
Engineer and Facilitator who loves to analyze the numbers and the people!

Guest Post — Anne Smith

Telling our whole stories

“[C]onsider the notion of empowerment. It presumes that the organization has the power and benevolently ladles some of it into the waiting bowls of grateful employees.” p. 91

In this quote Dan Pink was describing one of the faulty assumption he sees arising from the use of extrinsic motivational strategies. As I re-read it for this week’s post, though, it struck me that he could also have been talking about identity. A society or a culture is often the arbiter of what labels are available for us to use to define ourselves. Thus rather than growing into our souls, we wait with our bowls outstretched, yearning to hear what aspects of ourselves we can claim and likewise which are not acceptable.

In the organizational case, the prevailing wisdom Pink is challenging is that the individual requires something or someone external to sanction his or her power. In the case of diversity work, a critical misconception we are seeking to overturn is that only the powerful and the privileged have the right to define the options for naming and framing one’s identity. Complying with these externally mandated conventions when defining yourself usually comes at a cost: a cost to self-esteem because it presumes an outsider has the right to be making decisions about your worthiness, and a cost to self-understanding because when we use only the labels approved by others, we must often hide or deny a part of who we are.

With these thoughts and Pink’s quote in mind, consider the following questions:

  • Where have you given away your power to define yourself?
  • What stories about who you are do you struggle to tell due to a dearth of appropriate language?
  • Where is the currently acceptable terminology marginalizing key parts of your identity while perhaps empowering other aspects that you see as only incidental?

Your whole story deserves to be told and thus diversity work needs to include striving to create environments where intrinsic sources of power and motivation are brought to the fore. In such environments, the only permission you need to be yourself is from yourself. When you can embrace who you are and use that definition to build self-esteem, self-compassion and self-respect, you are able tap into your deepest sources of power — self-awareness and self-trust.

 


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

 

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Telling our whole stories