What I mean by diversity is delicious and not divergent, and top tips too

A multicoloured quilt with different handshakes sewn on. A woman places her hand onto one of the hand shapes.I thought it was about time I explained what the strapline at the top of my page means: believing diversity is delicious and not divergent.

Basically, I love difference. I think the more different people are from me, the more I have to learn. The more different people are from each other, the more fresh and interesting, the more useful, the more creative the discussions; the more new perspectives, new solutions, new knowledge get thrown into the mix. I think of difference as being good, not as deviating from some ‘norm’. I’ve never sure what the supposed ‘norm’ is anyway.

For me, diversity is not about tick boxes, quotas and statistics; it’s not just about the legal framework of nine protected characteristics as defined by the UK’s Equalities Act. Diversity is bigger, deeper, more.

For me, it is about accepting and working against our inbuilt reaction against difference – we all have this. Difference can make us feel fearful. And we react often with ignorance.

So how can we best embrace difference? Maximise its potential? Often our fear causes us to set up systems and structures that only suit the so-called ‘norm’, yet to benefit most from diversity we need these to be flexible, responsive and individualisable (not sure that’s a real word, but you know what I mean). Think about schools in the UK – are they really designed to get the best out of everyone?

So I promised you some top tips – here are my three:

1.  Recognise your own prejudices – explore them – where have they come from, how can you challenge them?

2. Look at the people around you – your colleagues, your teams, your board, your advisors, your friends – if they are all clones – all just like you – then make some changes, you will achieve more.

3. If someone in the room makes you feel uncomfortable – go there to have your conversation. We have much to learn from our discomfort!

Thanks to Oragon DOT for the image and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

If variety is the spice of life, why do we always do things in the same way?

a series of neon 'loops' on a black background. Although there are many different colours, they are all the same shape and size.I’ve just been on a presentation course. Yes, one of those where they film you, critique your every move, encourage others to give you feedback and leave you with a list of your good points and bad points (I found out I ‘eyebrow flash’ – this is a good thing apparently).

You got your video bits to take home, so I sat on the train and watched it all back. A one-minute presentation, then a five-minute one, a radio interview with ‘Jeremy Vine’ and discussing the papers in a ‘TV studio’. The thing I was most amazed by was how similar I appeared in all my sections – filmed over two days, in a variety of circumstances, I still seemed to be using the same movements, inflections,  – and (sad to say) even the same jokes.

For someone who believes heartily in the value of difference I didn’t seem to exploiting it much!

Do it differently

So, my new resolution is to try to do things more differently. More light and shade, more variety, more contrast, more changes in pace, tone, delivery.

Am off to do some presenting tomorrow – let’s see if I make it different.

(The course was at Ashridge Business School and I can heartily recommend it).

Thanks to kevin dooley for the image and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

An ordinary kind of diversity

a montage of 18 different hats, all distinct and exotic.“Welcome to the Northamptonshire heats of the ‘Whose Wearing the Most Preposterous Hat?’ competition.”

So began the bridegroom’s speech of a friend of mine as he married his wonderful wife, originally from Zimbabwe, in the presence of friends and relatives from all over.

There was a sharp intake of breath – then slow building ripple of laughter as we all looked around the room and saw the amazing diversity of our finest hats and headpieces. Sculptural hats rising up in silk and taffeta, intricately folded fabrics matching ceremonial robes, a traditional English ‘mother of the groom’ hat complete with attached flower garden – hats with veils, hats with wires, hats with foliage, feathers and features like you wouldn’t believe (and of course, my own multi-coloured fascinator worn at a jaunty angle).

We were in the backroom of a pub in a village in Northants, at an ordinary wedding of ordinary people – and we were splendid in our diversity. Not just of hats either – the memory of 70-year-old Uncle Ken getting down to some traditional South African dances will stay with many of us for a very long time indeed.

I’m usually wary of ‘celebrating’ diversity. My approach is usually less ‘saris and samosas’ (well-meaning highlighting of exotic difference) and more about recognizing, respecting and utilizing difference for positive effect within the work that I do. But this was a day for celebration – celebration of our differences, our similarities and one couples love for each other and their family.

Why am I posting this today? Sadly the beautiful bride passed away today and this is my tribute to her. Miss you.

Do you resent those who achieve? Welcome to begrudgery!

a lemon with sunglasses onI learnt a new word this week – an informal Irish word ‘begrudgery’ – meaning general resentment of any person who has achieved something, particularly if they share common features with you. So in Ireland that means those who are unable to feel good about the success of their fellow Irish men or women; and so on through all the minorities.

I was trying to explain the situation that happens sometimes within the disability arts movement, when someone gets something – an award, a grant, a job, a commendation – and rather than celebrate it, others use it as an opportunity to try and pull them down instead. Apparently, it’s a social phenomenon – also know as Tall Poppy Syndrome or referred to as The Politics of Envy, but I rather like the simple word begrudgery best.

I did some digging around to find out where it might have started – and it goes back a long, long way. Its what Samuel Johnson was referring to when he observed: “The Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir; the Irish are a fair people; – they never speak well of one another.”

One thought is that the rapid changes within Irish history meant that people quickly learned to keep their heads and not draw attention to themselves, and perhaps its this habit taken to an extreme – if you stick your head up, you are going to get flack.

Now begrudgery isn’t all bad. It’s great at puncturing pomposity and brilliant at dealing with ‘Hello’-styled celebs – always refreshing to see an oversized ego skillfully deflated. The problem is when it becomes automatic, when it’s the only response we ever make to the success of others; when its born of our bitterness rather than our wit.

I’ve been on both sides – both giving and receiving begrudgery. It hurts both ways, to be honest. It doesn’t feel great to puncture someone’s success – you are left feeling mean and spiteful. And it really smarts to have your own achievements thrown back at you. So 2012 – a new word and a new resolution – less begrudgery and a more welcoming approach to success – both mine and others, please!