Diversity in the workplace and elsewhere is often framed as a moral issue. We should hire a variety of people, the thinking goes, because it’s morally right to be inclusive. It’s the nice thing to do.
While that can be true, the issue shouldn’t be framed that way. People don’t generally start a job or a business to be nice – they do so to fill a need. Fortunately, diverse hiring can help with that, too.
Some years ago, HP came out with a new line of laptops. A major selling point of these laptops was that their built-in webcams were supposed to follow a person’s movement. However, they didn’t work as advertised if the person was black. A similar debacle happened with a Nikon camera that was supposed to detect if someone blinked, but the technology was foiled by Asian faces.
The Nikon case is a bit surprising since it’s a Japanese company, but it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that HP might not have a large percentage of black employees in its engineering divisions. If they had, there’s a better chance that this issue would have been caught before the laptops went to market and saved HP some bad press.
On a heavier note, in recent months there have been high-profile scandals regarding sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior. While there will always be people who behave badly, it’s less likely that such behavior would be allowed to run unchecked if there were more women in powerful positions.
Diversity also matters from a pipeline perspective. It’s easier to imagine yourself doing something when you see someone who looks like you doing that thing.
For example, in elementary school, I remember my class being asked to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up. Things were basically divided down gender lines. The girls all wanted to be teachers, nurses, or mommies. The boys wanted to be doctors, police officers, and firefighters.
Even when I showed some aptitude for science in high school, my teachers suggested I consider nursing school. It’s a reasonable guess that if I’d been a boy, they probably would have suggested medical school. To be fair, I don’t think being a doctor is necessarily better than being a nurse. But it’s interesting how these professions can be pushed in gendered ways.
This can be true for race as well. In 2016, there was a medical emergency on an airplane. Typically the crew will ask if there are any doctors on board, and they did so here. A black female gynecologist offered to help, but the crew brushed her aside, assuming that she wasn’t a real doctor. To make matters worse, when a white man offered his help, the crew accepted it immediately. But if we see more doctors of all races and genders, we’re less likely to brush aside someone who is truly qualified.
Have you ever been brushed aside because you didn’t fit the mold for something? How did it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments.