Working Smarter for Diversity


As written for Auckland university of technology

August 10, 2015


It’s ten minutes to midnight and I’m climbing into bed with my laptop (I make great decisions). My intention is to smash out the rough draft of an article before turning in to wrap up a week’s road trip through the bottom of the North Island. My travelling companion and one of my best mates cheers me on: “Go, Amy! She’s our gal! If she can’t do it, no one can!”

The encouragement comes from a good place, but it’s been a long day. We’re tired.

I tell him, “That better not be true.”

Once upon a time, I thought working ‘smarter, not harder’ was about how fast I could switch between tasks and how much I could accomplish in the morning before most people had finished their first coffee. I picked up slack. I took work home. I did this for years, both loving and hating it. No spoilers here: I burned out.

As a species, we’re engineered for cooperation.  We divide the labour: some communities divide and manage it better than others. Every second article these days on the subject of ‘successful teams’ can tell you about the benefits of diversity, but if you want to abstract to a higher level, just look to evolution. Creatures with genetic diversity had a greater chance of adapting to changing environments, surviving to thrive. In contrast, those that were inbred or maintained the status quo eventually buckled under the test of time and competition. 

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously insisted that change is the only constant. It is also said that necessity is the mother of invention and there is no shortage of challenges demanding us to work smarter than we did yesterday. To bring home my Hallmark trifecta: if you want a different outcome, you have to take a different course of action. But thinking differently is not easy without fresh insight, skills and a variety of experience: this is why teams, organisations and entire communities need diversity.

Diversity is rarely found in the breadth of one individual; even then, there is only so much one person can undertake in the cycle of a day. Our greatest victories are rarely achieved in isolation.  We need more than a greater number of people at the table; we need everyone. We need to empower each other with the means to participate in society to the best of our abilities.

In preparation for Diversity Week, I was asked what makes me diverse. Simply, I am a human being; it’s unremarkable but worth remembering once we reflect that no other being on Earth has lived our life with precisely our lens or circumstances. This means your insight and contribution will always be unique to you.

Diversity is a spectrum from the subtle to the overt. It is qualified in many ways. I’m a Samoan and Filipina graduate of Arts and IT who loves playing piano as much as Borderlands, as much as learning and sleeping in on weekends. I’m a practicing Christian in love with science who was coincidentally blessed with the ability to love someone regardless of their race, religion, sex or gender, and find no contention between these facts. I’m an advocate of compassion, not labels. Most importantly, my main sports are karaoke and degustation. Some people will find these statements completely unremarkable, but in other circles they’re still horrifying. In these reactions, diversity is alive and well, hoorah.

The needs of each individual and group are different; meeting them will be a patient journey together in negotiation and compromise. It starts with acknowledging that these differences exist. If you haven’t figured out by now, differentiation is a pretty great thing and it doesn’t preclude common ground. We need those differences as a species to excel and overcome.

In the face of such questions as, “How much longer will they continue serving water for free when it’s one of our most precious resources?” (I say ‘precious’ and not ‘valuable’ because you need water to survive, but you can’t drink minted currency) it’s fascinating that we’re still more preoccupied with who loves who, or whether some talent and abilities are only skin-deep. But let’s flex some pragmatism and redirect our big opinions to equally big issues.

Celebrating diversity is about inclusion and acceptance; it’s about working smarter, not harder – negotiating balance to empower everyone to be part of the conversation to face the challenges of our community today and into the future.