Diversity is more than skincolor and country of origin.
Diversity is more than skincolor and country of origin.

How To Make Diversity Work For You

A story of discovering the power of diversity

Diversity has for long been associated only with different cultures, skin colors and ages. When you have an international team you’re diverse, right?


The time is long over where you can judge culture by looking at someone’s skin color or heritage. I’ve met a lot of western thinking Chinese women. Just because they’re Chinese doesn’t meant they fit into the traditional role associated with Chinese women as subservient and quiet. I’ve met as many open-minded African white males as I’ve met the more traditional close-minded ones only interested in rugby and drinking beer while the women cook in the kitchen.

I’ve met Asians born and bred in America, I’ve met Americans born and bred in Asia. I’ve met more black people in France than in Africa. I’ve worked in teams with only locals that were more diverse than some international teams consisting of a broad range of nationalities.

Skin color, facial features, age and nationality says something about you, that is undeniable. But it is what goes on in your mind that really sheds light on the capacity for embracing diversity.

Same-same, But Different

Diversity is about accepting differences. It’s about being open to listen for understanding, not trying to make someone fit into your mold of what you perceive to be “good” behavior.

For example, in most of the western world, it is considered good manners when a man holds the door and allows the woman to enter first. In Africa, however, it is considered to be cowardly as it is the role of the man to protect the woman. By walking into a door first, they can make sure that the room is safe of wild animals or ‘tsotsi’s’ before allowing the woman enter. They also have a culture where speaking loud enough for everyone to hear means that you have nothing to hide and it means you are not gossiping —considered a good trait. In the western world, it is often seen as rude and selfish.

In the western world, being able to respond immediately and say no in a meeting is valued as strong leadership skills. In Asia, saying no to a superior is perceived as rude and disrespectful.

We have different rules depending on the geographic location, the industry, even the team. Diversity naturally happens when we play embracing all these different rules rather than for one set of rules to dominate.

Embracing Diversity

The key to embracing diversity is to find people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and be open to different ways of thinking.

You can have a more diverse team by putting different roles together than different nationalities as I learned one day by stepping outside my comfort zone attending a coding retreat as the only non-coder in the room. Luckily for me, they included and embraced me for being different. During the course of the day, our collaboration improved as we understood each other a little better.

The first insight surfacing after a first round of coding was how different a tester thinks than a developer and how this can be beneficial. The typical developer is very detail oriented and has an analytical mind. He can spend hours zooming into the intricacies of one function while keeping his focus. I, on the other hand, am a big-picture thinker. I never liked programming simply because it distracted me too much from what I’m naturally good at, namely keeping the big picture in mind. It’s not that I can’t program, it’s that I find it hard to keep my attention on the details when what I really want to do is see the whole. Suddenly, the typical developer-vs-tester competitive relationship turned to a valuable partnership.

Another insight surfaced when another developer, for the first time, realized the importance of using proper naming conventions to describe objects. The trainer and other coders have complained about this specific developer many times before as he uses generic naming conventions only understandable to him and refuses to change, not seeing the need. I, however, sat next to him and asked him what he thought should be obvious. It seems to me that for the first time it dawned on him how being a developer doesn’t guarantee that you know what is going on inside his mind. He changed the naming convention without any objection to something more meaningful. X1 changed to CustomerAge and X2 changed to NumberOfCustomers. For the first time he understood, but it took someone being different to show the reason.


To get a more diverse team, stop looking at different nationalities. Embrace and include different roles and functions in the team and create an environment of understanding and empathy.

As apposed to only doing pair programming with two or more developers, consider including occasional pair sessions including different roles. Let the product owner or the tester or the designer spend a few hours with the developer and vice versa.

What will surface is a better understanding of the different needs and compassion for the pain points of the other team members. It will mean better collaboration and better products.

Originally published on Medium: https://medium.com/intercultural-mindset/how-to-make-diversity-work-for-you-477bfa078531