#ebbfdiversity - Iko Congo on harnessing diversity, by moving from control to dialogue to wholeness

ebbf member Iko Congo shares views on diversity, encouraging new thinking in the run up to ebbf’s annual conference (taking place in May in Geneva) that will explore how can we and ethical business build the future going beyond diversity? Here is what Iko has to say.

“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” Tim Berners-Lee, founder of WorldWideWeb

In its literal definition, diversity is “a range of different things”, “a great deal of variety”.

When we look at the phenomenal world we are able to see this variety and different things in multiple ways – different coloured flowers, different sized plants, variety of animal species and completely different climates. At an initial glance, such diversity might be seen as an obstacle to organization – after all its impossible to have a penguin and a lion in the same habitat, or provide the same exact quantity of water to different species and sized trees.

I believe it is on this initial glance that diversity has at times, predominately in the past, been eschewed from organizations.

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Having a uniform workforce allows for a set of standard practices from remuneration, to working conditions to objectives that can be defined and maintained, allows for a status-quo. And this might have worked during an age when workers were just part of a machine system and their work was effectively uniform – and managers were meant to ‘control’.

But as many businesses today will declare, employees are now at the centre of the organization: Aldi: “it’s fair to say that people are our biggest and most brilliant asset.”; Deloitte “Our people are the keystone of our business.”; Meltwater “Our People Are Our Business.”, Blackstone “Our people are our most valuable asset”; Dalehead Foods “The strength of our business lies in its people.”; The Cabling Group “We believe that our staff are the core of our business.”

In today’s environment of constant change, complex interconnectedness and shocks, the capacity to innovate and adapt considerably increases the organizations resilience and success. The game is no longer to maintain things as they have always been but to be able to change today’s organization for tomorrow’s external conditions. Einstein’s quote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” signals the need for an evolving consciousness. This can only be accomplished through a dialogue, rich in a variety views, experiences and perspectives. Diversity for the sake of it can be beautiful. But, the true value of diversity is that if it is rooted in our culture it will reflect an openness, a mode of learning and a dynamism that will characterize the dialogue, previously mentioned, from which consciousness will be elevated, innovation will be spurred and the organization will increase its resilience in today’s evolving world.

It is perhaps on this note that many people appreciate diversity: Michelle Obama “Our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths, and colors, and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are; it makes us who we are”; Charles Forlan, “Our government repeats it, our statistics confirm it, our own eyes and ears register it: diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity”; Thomas Perez “Employers have recognized for some time that it’s smart business to have a diverse workforce – one in which many views are represented and everyone’s talents are valued”; Jinato Hu “Diversity in the world is a basic characteristic of human society, and also the key condition for a lively and dynamic world as we see today”.

I believe the conversation should not be reduced to pro or anti diversity. Because, firstly, that is not a constructive discussion; second, there are characteristics which we may well seem to differentiate individuals but that have absolutely no significance in the functioning of an organization; and thirdly diversity can only be an asset if the environment is right – again, a penguin in the middle of the Sahara Desert will not be very useful. Our conversation, in my opinion, should go beyond diversity. We should accept as a given that everyone, if given the opportunity, regardless of how they express themselves, or look, or whatever practices they accept, have the potential to contribute to an organization and the talents to make a difference. In this regard our conversation shifts to: how to create the structures, the conditions and processes that can give different, diverse individuals an opportunity?

Perhaps, looking at the model of functioning of the human body might give us insights about running an organization of diverse people, since the human’s biological nature illustrates the principle of unity in diversity, where the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body—and the perfect integration into it of the body’s cells … permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements”. (from *The Prosperity of Humankind“, p.2)

Iko Congo
Iko Congo

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