What the business world could learn about diversity from the color spectrum

We live in a binary world — everything, but everything is built on zeros and ones. It is part and parcel of every construct humans create, and for the most part it’s meant to simplify the world around us. I won’t argue against its utility, after all, it works. But we, as a society, have gone so far as to reduce each other to that same binary construct: man/woman, black/white, citizen/foreigner, my team/the other team. As a result, we’ve created the sense that we’re all competitors in a zero-sum game where there is only a yes or no answer. We’ve forgotten that “yes, and….” and “no, however…” are richer answers that render that zero-sum game moot, and allow others to share in the prize.

Black and white. That phrase has stuck in my craw these past weeks. Every time I hear it, I’m time warped back to my grade school science lab chalk board, above which this sign hung:

“Do not look for the answer in the black or the white, but in the shades of grey”

Cue the fifty shades joke, but before you make it, actually consider the message.

Black and white. It’s still binary, but there is something striking about the composition of those two colors: one is the absence of color, the other the epitome of ALL color. And it’s in examining the color spectrum that the argument for diversity is its most powerful.

On the spectrum, white is the presence of all colors. Our brains do not register white unless EVERY single color is present. Black isn’t true black unless it is nothing. These two states — black and white — are synonymous with shadow and light, obfuscation and clarity.

Quite literally, we need to see all the colors in the spectrum to get to clarity, to shine a light on a solution. The more diverse the collection of colors we see, the closer to clarity we get. The absence of color takes us further into the shadows. In a state of complete lack of diversity, the closer we get to seeing nothing.

The clarity, richness, fullness, of vision comes only with our biological ability to embrace the entire color spectrum, in all its diversity. This truth doesn’t end at a biological function — it applies to the business world as well.

I won’t list the litany of business cases that justify diversity as a revenue driver, or refer to the studies on increased profitability of gender mixed teams, nor the discrepancies of gender experience in the work place. You’ve probably heard them all before, and my variation on the theme of “It’s a Man’s World” won’t have you humming James Brown’s ironic iconic ode to women any time soon either.

Instead, I am asking you to consider this: if our biology, engineered to perfection, is constructed on embracing diversity, why do we turn a blind eye to diversity in the world we have built?

Why do we ignore the advantage of having a diversity of experience, thought, opinion, reasoning, anecdote, and perspective as we build business solutions? Why do we build a framework that cuts creativity short by excluding those who are different from us share their insights? Why do we not gather teams to solve problems that mirror the group of customers we serve? Why do we not eagerly learn from those who are different from us, who can show us other paths to success, who offer a compass that lets us navigate our journey into new adventures, ones we would not see unless they had pointed out the other road?

Is it because we are myopic — or is it because we’ve accepted that in this binary world, we can only operate in black and white?

In the Fintech industry there is a community who shirk binary as the only mode of operation, of which I like to count myself part. I get to witness these powerful women and men point out other colors of the spectrum, who lead by example to teach others how to see the beautiful colors on the diversity canvas and invite others in this industry to add their hue to the paint pallet. This community is committed to creating a visceral, colorful, potent masterpiece — one that could not exist if diversity were not a core ideal.

We have roadmaps to making this change to a non-binary industry, from company policy shifts, to encouraging women to enroll in STEM studies, and creating mentorship and networking programs to help women advance their careers. Some of these roadmaps take us into territory yet unexplored, while some of these paths are well trodden. And as we chart our map, let me leave you with this parting thought:

Even in a night sky, stars shine — we see them as white lights — they have served as guides to those voyaging the world when they had no other instruments to navigate. It’s not hard to imagine that those intense clusters of white light composed of diverse energy, matter, and particles twinkling in the dark sky mirror our own human condition: we shine brighter together when we celebrate and embrace our differences.

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