Diversity by design

28 Jun

Here’s a TED talk for all of us: http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hockenberry_we_are_all_designers.html.

Journalist John Hockenberry talks about how “We are all designers” with a simple thesis: our intentions are realized in our design. Hockenberry offers a simple example: flashy wheels for his wheelchair, which transformed him from someone you’re not supposed to stare at, to someone little kids want to hitch a ride with. It’s not just about the cool wheels, of course; the implication is that the wheelchair itself was designed as much for the look-away effect it has, as the wheels were designed to be looked at.

Hockenberry’s thesis reminds me of systems thinker Barry Richmond’s statement, “All systems are perfectly designed to get the results they get.”

I think about this a lot when I work with organizations. A school that is struggling to increase diversity in admissions or hiring must first recognize how they are perfectly designed to get the admissions or hiring yields they’re getting. As opposed to wondering why more minorities aren’t applying or accepting positions in the community, the question is really: how are we–from our hiring and admissions processes, to our daily practice of inclusion and equity–cultivating homogeneity despite our stated commitment to diversity? Because if an organization’s diversity work is foundering, it’s likely because it’s set up to fail.

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