Diversity is a Virtue

Around 2009 or so, Google rolled out Google Wave. It was an attempt by Google to do a kind of social media. It didn’t make it.

Google rolled it out the same way they rolled out Gmail: initially, only existing users could invite new people, and each existing user had a limited number of invites. That way the growth of the system was organically limited to a rate which Google could keep up with. When you signed up, Google Wave automatically sent some of your information to your most frequent correspondents in your Gmail account, as a way to promote networking and get the word out.

Problem: if you are in the process of extracting yourself from an abusive relationship, your abuser may be among your most frequent correspondents. …and now your abuser has more information about you.

There are plenty of groups of people who have good reason to keep information about themselves as inaccessible as they can (a feat which was more possible in 2009 than it is in 2017). Among these are:

Abuse survivors.
Closeted trans people or gay people who will lose jobs or families if they are outed.
Police officers, whose work sometimes follows them home in the form of vengeful criminals.

Any of these groups could have told Google’s engineers that automatically sending out private information was a bad idea, and why… if they had been in the room when that design decision was made. But Google, like almost all tech companies, tends to swing male, and straight, and white, and highly-educated. They do employ abuse survivors, and trans people, and former or part-time police officers, and others, whether they know it or not.

But apparently none of those people were in the room.

This is one of the benefits of diversity. Different viewpoints enable organizations to catch errors.

Different viewpoints also enable groups to come up with ideas which would not have occurred to a more homogenous group. This is one of the reasons my country, the United States, is such a powerful engine for generating ideas and innovation.

Because it works in government, too: when minorities are in the room, the output of the room is different. The work product of the people in the room is informed by the lived experience of the people in the room. If some of those people hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their college buddies, that’s fine… as long as there are ALSO people who hear “the people you e-mail most with” and picture their abusive partner, or the troll who has decided to bombard them with 100 messages a day.

If you have three women in the room, chances are good there is a woman in the room who has had an abortion. No matter what you think of abortion, that’s a powerful and important viewpoint to have in the room. Whether that woman speaks for or against abortion, she can speak to what it was like to make that decision, to have to make that decision, in this society. And the decision-making process is richer for that experience.

Representation matters. Indeed, my country was founded on that idea: “No taxation without representation.”

And exposure to those varied viewpoints uplifts us all. We learn to see ourselves in others. When we have positive experiences of different kinds of people, when someone tries to demonize a group, we have a chance for our unconscious mind to serve up a picture of someone we know, someone we care about … instead of a anonymous bogeyman.

We all have things in common. And we are all different. And that’s diversity.



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