Identity & (organizational) culture
To be authentic or to mimic within the company? An analysis about the identity demands in innovation companies.
For a long time I had this thoughts about identity and diversity within organizations and finding Rebeca Hwangs’ TED Talk finally triggered this article.
Like Rebeca, I also have a multiethnic history. I’m Argentinean, I’m a non-practicing jewish (this is something many people usually have a hard time understanding about my affiliation to the jewish community), in fact I’m also half - ashkenazi and half - sephardic after my family tree. And I also was a migrant once. Twice, actually. It started back in 1991, in Toronto, Mississauga, when I was an 8-year old girl and was adapting to the local public education system. The place that initiated my life in Canada was the Pheasant Run Public School, where now is a Heart House Hospice, although I felt sad when I knew the school where I had the most intense and humanizing experiences of my life was going to be demolished.
10 years later I was going to start a new life from scratch — after finishing high school — in Kfar Saba, a town near Tel Aviv, in Israel. It was in 2002, right when the second intifada took place. And yes, I knew exactly what would happen after seeing the F-16 hovering over the city, I knew where they were heading. Or the weird feeling of looking at the weather map followed by the “piguiym” (terrorist attack) map where instead of ⛈ and ☀️ there were 💥 and ⚠️. Something I could never adjust to (never will nor want to).
Being Argentinean in Canada and in Israel in two critical moments of my life (at 8 and 18 years old) definitely shaped how I see the world and who I am, also the urgency to understand diversity and how that drives hate and intolerance among people was one thing that led me to study anthropology. Of course there was more, like what’s behind how people’s choice to build their history from their buildings colors, shapes and patterns. Something my dad told me I wasn't going to find by only studying architecture (what I was studying at that time). I was experiencing the first shift in the Academic field.
But it wasn't the only shift. I had to learn to embrace my inner diversity from an early age. I was the bullied little girl on school because I was petit, then because I was jewish, then because I wasn’t the stereotypical jew — never went to the Temple on Kabbalat Shabbat nor had any religious life — and so on, and so on. I learned: diversity bothers. And still, I was lacking some other otherness signs such as being black, gay, vegan, etc. to the delight for all those who point fingers at the non-hegemonic identities. Point is: dissenting identities do bother.
Diversity and affiliation are very much related in the shift from the private to the public life spheres. Even the sacred and the profane can be some sort of a jury in this transition. And yes, transition, because something that makes us human (complex and not reductible) is the fact that identity is dynamic and multifaceted. Identity is made of a variety of signs from a wide scope of ethnicities and community values, other than the particular history of one self. And this bothers because it’s no simple task to keep an open mind and try not to fit everything within a controllable labeled box. It is also uncomfortable the ethnogenetic process itself when communities are creating their own identity representations, just like teenagers do when they are rediscovering themselves, by resorting to exaggerated forms of significance — a.k.a. diacritics — in order to establish this dialectic relation between the self and the otherness, the identitarian process in its quintessential aspect.
Diversity within the organizations
As work environment is another aspect of the social life, no matter how alienated or submitted to isolated processes we are, the identity dynamics is there to remind us about the social interrelations we are reproducing.
So, we can think about organizations and companies as any kind of community, with its own normative frame and cosmovision. And along comes with it its openness to diversity.
Which leads to the following question: What’s behind the idea of cultural fit? There’s some diversity and the accepted diversity, thus, diversity gets standardized and neglected in one single subtle move.
As Dr. Kaminsky (1950–2018) said in “Dispositivos Institucionales”:
Every institution is authoritarian (…) democratic isn’t the institution that eliminates verticality, but is the one that does not fear before the horizontal movements.
This idea is also the political reason why innovation is not for everyone, nor happens under every set of circumstances. It takes tolerance to embrace diversity to create the conditions to innovate and those who tend to do so are those outcasts who feel uncomfortable enough to change their surroundings. Their success (and the innovation success) relies on how (and if) the bureaucrats and “law makers”* enable them to drive change within the organization.
Like every other human activity, it is all about the old power relations ever-since we became a sedentary population.
If there is a State, there must be domination of one class by another and, as a result, slavery; the State without slavery is unthinkable — and this is why we are the enemies of the State. — Mikhail Bakunin
The State, like any other kind of modern capitalist institutions and organizations, is structured from and for this domination relation and the social struggle. Being one of the most useful examples on institutional analysis.
But, what is the place of diversity within an organization?
When a company hiring strategy aims for culture fit, is that company being inclusive and fostering diversity within its structure or is it just implementing a well crafted set of policies and protocol to recruit people that will best adjust to the values, mission, mindset and cosmovision of the organization for the sake of productivity?
This is one ethical and critical matter for HR professionals and companies in the innovation industry. And its also part of the semantic struggle behind the ideology among the HR pros who are debating is their practice involves Talent Acquisition/Hunting (“rational-narcissistic” analogy) , Recruitment (old military analogy), or the “humanising” People role.
Innovating involves critical thinking and a strong drive for change. Diversity is one key aspect to drive innovation and enrich not only the creative process, but also the raw material of cognition and mindsets that make it happen. This means that this approach requires tolerance, acceptance, and openness to dynamism and uncertainty.
Once again, following Dr. Kaminsky, obsessive controlling in-the-zone conservative thinking is not compliant with innovation. Which recalls:
“There’s nothing worst than a frightened bourgeois” — Bertolt Brecht
When history demands being sensitive to human needs knowing the past to build the present, looking forward to the future. Which triggers this final questions: What is our place in the innovation sphere as UX pros?, On what side of history are we standing to drive innovation?, How conscious are we of our responsibility in out everyday practice?, Are we working to make all peoples’ lives better?, Are we conscious of our own inner diversity?, What kind of companies are we building or collaborating in?
*One interesting concept that is Justice, as a quintessential human device throughout history and across all (inherent) power struggle.