Without diversity, knowledge is limited. Imagine that the world was tasked with solving the most complex issue known to humans. Only a group of white men, who were all 50 years old and brought up with the same religion, having been raised in the same city and gone to the same school, were chosen to create and implement a resolution. Knowledge, would, naturally, be limited to the lives they had all similarly lived.
Homophily is a common phenomenon in recruitment and social circles, where people have a tendency to select or include others because they look and think like they do. This creates organisations, corporations, teams and friendship groups that consist of extremely similar individuals. By agreeing on assumptions, beliefs and perspectives, everyone feels validated and unchallenged. This creates homogeneity, which is a state of everyone being of the ‘same kind’, and creates cognitive blindspots.
Cognitive blindspots come from having a limit upon your knowledge based on the culture you have been brought up within, as well as your experiences, which can be influenced by your age, gender and race. Any team of homogenous individuals will suffer from cognitive blindspots. This makes decision-making and problem-solving less accurate due to a natural limit upon the group’s knowledge. This is why diversity is crucial in making organisations, corporations, teams and friendship groups successful or progressive in their knowledge and understanding of the world they live in. Diversity allows new or overlooked information to be brought to the table and be implemented within problem-solving predicaments, to create the most effective resolution.
The counter-argument highlights an important question: what about merit? What happens if the best people for the job are all white men? Is it right to place “forced equality” before choosing “the best people” for the job? If it so happens that the most appropriate candidates for a job are all white men from similar backgrounds, then so be it. However, this outcome is extremely unlikely if the recruitment process is truly non-discriminatory. Further to this, to create the most intelligent team you must balance exceptionality in individuals with diversity amongst the group. Brilliant candidates can be found from all backgrounds and races.
DID THE CIA FAIL TO PREVENT 9/11 BECAUSE OF HOMOPHILY?
RESOURCE: REBEL IDEAS: THE POWER OF DIVERSE THINKING BY MATTHEW SYED
After its formation in 1947, the CIA had a rigorous hiring process, finding stellar candidates through SAT-style intelligence tests and psychological profiles. Around 1 candidate from every 20,000 was accepted. However, most recruits were white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, American men, highlighting the homophily phenomenon, where they were selected due to being similar to their recruiters and the team, as well as meeting the criteria. From 1947 to 2001, homogeneity defined the CIA culture. They were exposed to the risk of cognitive blindspots. Through not having intelligence workers who thoroughly understood Islam, Islamic extremism and Islamic symbolism, it is suggested that the CIA had relatively limited knowledge on what the evidence leading up to 9/11 meant, and underestimated the size of its threatening nature.
To read more about this fascinating example of homophily and its potential effects, please read this incredible book: Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed. It’s is a captivating collection of real-life examples explaining the psychology behind systemic discrimination, racism and why people struggle to change their beliefs, no matter how bad they may seem to you or I, and irrespective of how much evidence there is proving them wrong. If you’re struggling with not understanding why pressing issues continue to this day, and you want an educational resource that’s easy to follow, this book is a must-read.