There was a time in my life when I worked for an insurance company in Manchester. It, along with a telesales job selling dodgy mobile phone packages to numbers out of the Yellow Pages, and a bank job which involved endless spreadsheets and naps in the toilet, was one of my career low points.
It was, however, more poignant because of my environment, rather than the tediousness of the job itself. I worked in a team of six: me, a 20-year-old who spent his weekends in nightclubs, and five middle-aged women.
Our conversation would largely comprise of three topics: what iced bun they had brought that day for lunch; husband and children issues which, while at times was fascinating, my contribution was a little scarce; and Coronation Street, which I did not watch nor did I want to.
Three months in and I had started watching Corrie enough to keep up with the chat and buying the odd bun too, but I do believe after six months the amount we learned from each other was pretty forgettable.
When we talk about diversification in workspaces I don't feel that 90% of the people that discuss it really understand what it means. Most of our working life is made up of environments like the one above, whether its an office full of ex-public schoolboys, a kitchen of 20-something men or environments biased by age, culture, religious choices or ethnicity.
We sometime feel that peppering those environments with limited diversity is doing the job, but it just doesn't work like that. No matter how big my personality was, or how interesting I could be, there was no way for me to fit in to that environment without assimilating into it. Which is why the mainly white or male-led kitchens make assertions about female or ethnic minority co-workers when in reality they don't know what they're talking about. That's not them, that's just how they behave in that tribe. An outsider trying to assimilate does nothing to understand the potential of diversification.
Tribalism in the workplace is, to me, the enemy of most productivity. It's the enemy of creativity for sure and the enemy of growth at its core, yet companies still find it to be safe ground. It's felt that a workforce that can instantly get along is somehow a good thing and that a shared life experience is a benefit to progress, but in reality the truth is so far away.
I was brought up in a predominantly white school in a white, middle-class neighbourhood and if I had gone on to work, as many did, in insurance or in banking, my horizon would not have changed. That is, in my opinion, the death rattle for personal growth. It is simply not enough to go on holiday or to read about people you don't quite understand, as everything has to be lived too.
Luckily, I went on to do a multitude of things that helped me to appreciate other cultures, but for most people this doesn't happen. But I've still got so much to learn and so much more room to grow. When we question why men don't really understand women, or why racism, homophobia or transphobia still prevail in a developed multicultural society, the answer is complex but the individual solutions are pretty straightforward. We just have to get to know each other better and work together more, and we need to start to see alternative viewpoints, cultural experiences and opinions as a bonus to progress and creativity.
Giving people that opportunity to grow at work will move on to their social circles, and that can become an infectious force for positive change. The more change we experience, the richer our lives can be, and the fewer sickly sweet iced buns we will have to shove in our gobs just to fit in.
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