In truly diverse Lyfta, diversity is not a goal
Lyfta is a team of filmmakers, coders, designers, teachers, linguists, and programmers, coming from Nepal, Spain, South Korea, Guatemala, Finland, Colombia, the UK, Germany, France, and Hong Kong, men and women, married and unmarried, coffee drinkers and tea drinkers, those who watch Game of Thrones and those who don’t.
One day, a colleague said something that stuck with me. In passing, she mentioned that she very much liked her name, feeling that its gender neutrality was a blessing. “I feel like my emails have always been responded to with respect; perhaps because many people assume I’m a man.”
Around the world both research and anecdotal evidence has found that prestigious degrees and years of relevant work experience are of little help for job applicants with foreign-sounding names. Studies tend to find that applicants with majority culture-sounding names are 30‒70 % more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with minority-sounding names and identical work experience. At the same time, study after study shows that companies with diversity tend to innovate more and outperform others.
I had never really consciously paid much thought to the fact that in this Finnish‒British company I work for, Britons and Finns are in the minority. Then, one day, I was reading a newspaper article about a Finnish research study which confirmed the above-mentioned tendency to still exist on my homefront too: Applicants with a Russian-sounding name were about half as likely to get a call for an initial job interview than the applicants with a Finnish-sounding name. I felt sad, but at the same time amused by the notion that, in Lyfta, a foreign-sounding name rather seems to be regarded as a merit per se.
Seriously speaking, I agree with The Economist’s columnist Schumpeter who claims that “distinguishing between genuine cultural diversity and the box-ticking sort” is a challenge to companies. Lyfta is not diverse because diversity is our goal. It’s not. But we have been tremendously lucky to find creative, dedicated, empathetic, and extremely talented professionals who make up a magnificent team rich in innovation, creativity, and new perspectives.
The research results suggest that diverse teams help employees become more aware of their own biases, enhance employee engagement, and outshine homogenous teams in decision-making because they process information more carefully. All this appeals to my common sense. But all this is also something I don’t feel the need to be actively aware of. Just like I find conjunctive adverbs, suffixes, and participles greatly useful and necessary in my everyday life but never consciously recognise using them while talking or writing, why on earth should I focus on gender or nationalities? We’re all humans, after all.
It often feels that especially young children are also blind to difference and intuitively seek for potential and possibilities in friendship and cooperation. We would love to hear teachers’ experiences on this. You can download the artwork to start a conversation in your class and share the answers or other diversity-related experiences on our Twitter or Facebook.
In the coming week we will be celebrating International Women’s Week by sharing several inspiring perspectives in the form of blogs, social media updates, and more art. Next up we’ll discuss women in tech.
Stay tuned and have a great day, wherever you are, whoever you are!
A few interesting reads on the topic:
David Rock & Heidi Grant
Harvard Business Review, 2016
Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall & Laura Sherbin
Center for Talent Innovation, 2013
Richard B. Freeman & Wei Huang
Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton & Sara Prince
McKinsey & Company, 2015.