How diverse are your relationships?

February 25, 2022

Think about the closest people in your life outside your immediate family.

Those friends, colleagues, and teammates who you turn to when you want to bounce ideas, celebrate or commiserate. When you need guidance or are in need of help.

Take a moment to write down the top ten names that come to mind.

Now casting your eye over that list ask yourself how diverse (or similar) they are in terms of race, culture, education, sexuality, gender, age, ability, disability, wealth… Are there significant differences, or are they broadly very similar?

Birds of a feather

As humans we have a tendency to gravitate towards people who are very similar to us, mainly because it’s safe, comfortable and familiar. People who look like us, talk like us, dress like us and act like us make us feel at ease and don’t challenge our perspective on the world. In fact similarity bias, otherwise known as affinity bias, is one of the most prevalent unconscious biases that we are prone to. And it’s a big problem.

Our tendency to gravitate toward people who are like us affects the way we recruit, the decisions we make at work, our political choices and our selection of partners and friends. It explains why there are so few women or people of colour in board rooms, why people with disabilities face an uphill battle for equal treatment and why those who aren’t neuro-typical find it harder to find acceptance. It also explains why most of us have a fairly homogenous group of people around us.

Why diverse relationships matter

While we might subconsciously feel safer surrounded by people who mirror us, cultivating more diverse relationships can be very powerful. Not only does it increase our empathy, boost awareness of self and others, and disrupt our thinking, it also gives an opportunity to expand our perspective on the world.

Diverse groups are more like to be innovative, behave with authenticity and perform better than their homogenous counterparts. Why? Because if you are surrounded by people who share the same background, culture and experiences they are more likely to reinforce the way you approach problem solving and challenges. You have less chance of expanding and changing as an individual, team or organisation.

Increasing the diversity of your relationships

If this is the case for you or your team take a moment to consider how you might expand your network to include a more diverse set of people.

  • Get outside your comfort zone
  • Think about why it’s so important to meet diverse people
  • Consider what your recruitment process looks like
  • Take the time to talk to people who are different to you
  • Join new groups, and invite others into your circles
  • Become aware when you are falling into biases

Take the time to consciously challenge yourself to build new and diverse relationships in all aspects of your life. You will be rewarded with new ideas, heightened awareness and a greater appreciation for the world around you.

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