Diversity & the surprising reason we need to fight for it

how limbic system affects our views on diversity and other reasons we need to fight that bias

My tryst with a hate crime

Before we talk about diversity, I want to tell you a story. It was spring of 2007. I had recently moved to Buffalo, New York, for what would be my first overseas assignment. The second largest city in New York State, Buffalo has feel of a sleepy suburb, with rich industrial history.  Our work days began early in the morning in shared radio cabs that felt quite futuristic for a young twenty something. We made our way to a multi-story office in downtown Buffalo every weekday, and religiously started back home 5pm. As we were doing lots of “production support” we also had many late nights.

Cooking, friends, sports and access to cheap electronics was so much fun. 

As many young foreigners living their dream in the US, we quickly figured out how to drive on the right side of the road. We started renting cars over the weekend. We didn’t waste a single weekend and traveled to tens of states and cities. Hours and hours on the interstate network, we explored America as it should be explored.

On one such evening in New York City, a group of criminals / hooligans targeted us with racial slurs and intimidating behaviour in a harrowing episode. We were thankfully unharmed but the ordeal left us shaken to the core. I have to mention that my colleagues and almost everyone else we met were extremely generous, welcoming, friendly and simply brilliant. This is not a gripe about a country or a community but just my first brush with what we didn’t know back then as – “hate crime”. However, I am pretty sure it could have happened to anyone and anywhere and also that it exists everywhere including in India. All that mattered within that moment is that hate wasn’t to be tolerated. In conclusion, I made a promise that day to myself to fight hatred, racism, bigotry and bias.

Lack of diversity has roots in our limbic system

Let’s look at 3 reasons why diversity can help address some of these issues.

1. We are not just fighting attitudes – we are fighting our very own Limbic system. This will take generations to change.

Stanford University’s Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence program suggested that about 75 percent of whites and Asians demonstrated an implicit bias favoring whites over blacks (Link).

diversity is linked to our primordial brain
Limbic system dates back generations

It will take generations worth of effort to change this.

In other words, Racism, bigotry, hatred, and xenophobia are all emotions. They run deep in many of us. We are taught that racism is bad however parts of our limbic system (Amygdala) respond to new and unfamiliar stimuli with apprehension and fear. This is referred to as implicit bias. While we can train our brain and become better at controlling our instincts, biases don’t change overnight. They must change over generations. As a result, diversity can help with that transition. I studied graduate school in a class with 25 different nationalities. Also, I have traveled to over 27 countries and I have operated in extremely diverse work environments. This has conditioned me to realise that diversity brings value, richness of thoughts, and opinions and actions which is 💯 a good thing.

The universe is full of infinite diversities. That’s what makes it so exciting.

We know about racial / gender diversity, and many of us have heard or operate with rightly laid out diversity and inclusion targets. How many of us consciously celebrate other kinds of diversity? Do you hire for example because someone brings brilliant creativity to your team? Did you ever connect with someone because they have much different life experiences than you? Do you usually avoid the unknown or you embrace it? Are you uncomfortable with uncertainty or do you thrive on it? I think it’s time we did all these things.

Different is many!

A millennial that does not believe in hierarchy adds to diversity. An individual that requires a strong sense of purpose before committing adds to diversity.

This diversity of thoughts, beliefs, and opinions is critical.

  • Introverts vs Extroverts
  • Creatives vs Analytical
  • Northerner vs Southerner (regional)
  • English speaking vs vernacular
  • Deep thinker vs impulsives
  • Comic vs serious
  • Rich vs poor
  • Naive vs shrewd
  • Secure vs insecure
  • Known vs unknown
  • Straight vs Gay
  • Liberal vs conservative
  • Democrats vs Republican
  • Too young vs Too old
  • Highly Educated vs Drop outs
  • Ivy league vs non Ivy league

In conclusion, the more the better! Send your kid to a diverse school. Let him or her mingle with non like-minded people. Hire for all kinds of diversity. Invite external speakers to your team meetings. Perhaps from a different region or even industry. See how much you learn and become better at everything. Finally, diversity brings difference of opinion. This almost always results in better outcomes.

diversity can be fun

Culture trumps process – every time!

I believe culture and diversity are joined at the hip. In addition, in order to create or maintain great culture, you need to re-assess the importance you give to diversity.

The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products“.

Brian Chesky, AirBnB

Brian also suggests that strong culture removes the need for arduous processes. It is like doing mental math vs. doing calculations on paper. Mental math is great culture whereas calculations on paper are processes. They may achieve the same goal, but processes are much slower.. To conclude, great culture means that you can trust people to make the right decisions!

Diversity helps avoid cognitive biases thereby improving decision-making

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg in an interview, talked about how Facebook places its bets on the future. He highlighted the strong role culture plays. From testing a new ad-format, to choosing the next big thing to invest-in. Above all, Mark’s commitment to diversity is visible from the quote below.

“We invest in people who we think are really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before – like the CFO who hasn’t taken a company public before – we simply are committed to invest in talented people”.

Mark Zuckerberg

According to this Deloitte article, diversity helps by,

  • Avoiding group-think. You benefit from having all the diverse perspectives on the same challenges.
  • Increasing scale of insight. This is something that I have personally experienced in my career. Quality and scale of ideas is better in a diverse team
  • Identify the right talent to solve their most pressing issues.

Science strongly favours diversity. Without it, we wouldn’t have been the dominant species on this planet.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection supports diversity. According to a related theory, A large gene pool has extensive genetic diversity and as a result, it is better able to withstand the challenges posed by environmental stresses. So even marrying outside your cast or race can be a good thing for your gene pool 😁. So, babies and marriages aside, diversity on boards results in better returns, diversity on teams results in better results, diversity in data science teams results in better bias avoidance. It is widely researched that diversity of thought is not just good but it is great.

Universe is most likely teeming with life


In a universe most likely teeming with life our survival as a species seems to be dependent on diversity. How would you feel if you were the only kind of intelligent life in the universe? I would be certainly unhappy. So if not for all this, for the universe’s sake, would you join me in fighting for diversity?

By Abhi Shah

Hi, I’m Abhi. After living many years in London, me and my family re-located back to India in the summer of 2017. I spend most of my time working with a high performing team at Barclays in Pune, India and the rest with my son Anik! I have spent half of my career in commercial product roles and half in technology. I have also spent over 9 years living outside India, and have traveled to over 27 countries. Visit the Bio section of this website to learn more about me.

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