Critical Thinking, Diversity and Compromise

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We are increasingly aware of the value of critical thinking in the HR profession. We need though to remain alive to the risk of valuing this in itself, rather than the changes in the workplace and the World that critical thinking can inform and drive. What does this mean for how we think about Diversity and Inclusion?

For Diversity to mean anything, it has to be respected for what it really is: difference and variation. In an attempt to develop ‘meaningful’ ways of talking about what is (by definition) the most complex of ideas, we built frameworks on which to hang ‘one size fits all’ notions of BAME, LGBT, Age, and Gender against a backdrop of rainbow flags and to a soundtrack of steel bands. Those who have worked in the area have, I think, made a real difference and have helped to get the message across that we want the workplace to be as level a playing field as it can be for everybody involved. Given that, I don’t want this to read as a broad brush criticism of Diversity & Inclusion. Instead, I want to make a point that – as the World has changed – so must we change to keep it relevant and meet the challenges of today.

The multiple events, linkages, and technologies that have changed our World in recent years have all contributed to a new awareness of a ‘Diversity of Ideas’. Time and again we have seen the ‘legitimate’ and ‘well reasoned’ views and narratives defeated by alternative ideas. In politics we have seen the election of Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, in the UK, BREXIT and, in the US, Trump. None of these decisions made any sense when measured against legitimate concepts. But, they all happened. Social media is the ultimate de-centred platform in which a tweet by an uneducated man in a terraced house in Huddersfield has the same potential audience as that of a Professor of Politics sat in her office at Harvard. The UK Government has, arguably, less traction in a socially connected World than a terrorist or freedom fighter in Syria.

This new awareness of a diversity of ideas presents us with challenges and choices. Do we maintain our previous comfortable position of using our large vocabularies, educated historical references, and ability to construct arguments to attack? Do we insist that popularism is fundamentally bad? Or, do we take a different approach which embraces the comfortable and less comfortable aspects of a diversity of ideas?

The reason this is so important in the workplace is that we have to take a stance; we have to choose which of the two camps we are in. Much as with politics, we can be people management purists who focus on critiquing the approach of managers and others with a self-satisfied confidence. Or, we can be pragmatists, listening to and actively thinking about the views of so called ‘bad’ managers and others – even when we find that difficult – and seeking compromise rather than victory.

How many times have you been to an HR conference and heard a presenter differentiate between what they think is the right approach, and the approach they ultimately choose to take as a compromise? I’ll bet it’s not often, but, if we are serious about bringing critical thinking into HR, we can’t accept this ‘uniview’ of people management beloved by the profession, academics and the Twitterati anymore.

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