Diversity? You Mean Connectivity!

The approach some people have to the issue of social diversity is rather simplistic.
Their idea of “adding diversity” to a software team is usually limited to attracting more women. It is an approach based on stereotypes about gender differences, and, from a scientific perspective, it is completely outdated (see: “Out with the pink and blue: Don’t foster the gender divide” – NewScientist).

“There’s a lot more to diversity than the shape of ones genitals.”
The Future of Management – Gary Hamel.

It has been noted by management experts and complexity scholars that a person’s performance is determined, to a large extent, by the system in which he is set to work. And social network analysis has revealed that this performance also depends on the person’s connectivity with other people in the social network (see: The Hidden Power of Social Networks – Cross/Parker).

This means that, when you hire a new person, one of the most important things to watch out for is how this person will connect to other people in the organization. Preferably, you want these connections to be of a different kind than the connections the existing team members have been able to establish, because diversity in connectivity has the highest impact on competence and performance in your team. Whether the person is male, female, dark, white, single, married, big, or tall, is probably irrelevant.

This means, when hiring a new team member, right after checking for competence, you should check for a person’s connection-making capabilities. For example, by checking what kind of connections she made in her previous job; the kind of connections she prefers in her social life; the sources she uses to increase her knowledge; the way she approaches the receptionist, the HR manager, and other people in your organization; and the way this person can get along with the team she is likely to join. That means you check this stuff before you sign the contract, because these are all indicators of the real diversity the person will add to your team.

Diversity is not about a person’s genes. It’s about a person’s mind and her connections.

(image by batega)

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/yveshanoulle YvesHanoulle

    Is it one or the other? Why not both?
    That is diversity on treating diversity…

  • Mike Sutton

    Good take on one of the effects of diversity – the ability to connect. But I question how much this has to do with diversity? My experience tells me this has more to do with people’s view of the world, their ability to create and sustain rapport (by creating bridges into other people’s maps of the world). The jury is out whether gender *scientifically* has anything to do with this.
    Connectivity can be learned – tools and techniques can be mastered. Gender , race – but mostly social experiences can make it easier or harder to do this.
    I do have anecdotal evidence from my own learning, training etc that women are generally more empathetic than men. From neuroscience research, women have also been found to absorb more about a situation than men (see The Brain Rules by John Medina).
    In the end , a person is not just a gender, colour etc – they are a rich and deep container of perceptions of experience (you and I may have the same experience but widely different lessons learnt, perceptions etc). But the elements of nature (gender, race etc), nurture (upbringing, education) and what they have been exposed to in their lives all contribute to the library of perceptions that they build.
    It is the variety of perceived experiences and their associated learnings and adapted behaviours that we call Diversity – not simply the single points (like gender).

  • Kurt Häusler

    More interesting than “adding diversity” for me, is asking why we don’t naturally have diversity, asking whether the lack of diversity is a problem in itself, or a symptom of some deeper problem, what those deeper problems might be, and how do we resolve them.
    Evaluating employees on their connectivity sounds interesting, I remember reading something about that in a recent CACM, but seems orthogonal to the diversity issue.

  • Mike Sutton

    We do have diversity – you *cannot* not have diversity.
    But often companies do not value it and therefore do not have the skills to mine it and maximise their use of it.

  • Chatitze Moumin

    In a sunny Sunday I am in the office, I have been working since this morning, and now when I open this page the picture which is at the beginning of the article reminds me the FA KEY (reverse) in the music before I read the article as a female software engineer 🙂 that is the difference between genders 😉 I think…

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