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Can straight white men be diverse?

My answer to that question starts with a nostalgic trip to the classrooms of my childhood.

Back in my day, teachers used projectors and laminated sheets to share information in class.

My teachers would either type or write their notes on transparent slides. Sometimes there was a plain piece of paper over the transparency, which would hide the notes. The teacher would slowly pull the sheet down to reveal the notes.

Sometimes teachers used multiple transparencies stacked on top of each other to add to images - like this colour dimensions photo.

It strikes me that these slowly revealed or layered images are a metaphor for how we present ourselves to other people.

They interact with what we let them see.

And there are things that are hidden under the paper or other layers - things they can't yet see.

Widening the view of diversity

When diversity is raised, our first thoughts are often race, ethnicity, and gender.

These things are usually highly visible, and certainly impact our experiences and views of others. But they are just part of what makes us who we are.

Can straight, white men be diverse?

Of course.

Here's a way of seeing the layers that make up diversity. Seeing these layers opens up the diversity discussion and gives people a way to contribute.

The ICES model of Diversity

I first heard about the ICE-model of Diversity at a 2019 FLINT conference about the Future of Work. We've made it the ICES model. And we've integrated the ICES model into our diversity, inclusion, and belonging conversations when we're working with organisations and leaders.

The ICES model breaks down diversity into four elements: identity, cognitive, experiential, strengths.

  • I - IDENTITY: your identification with groups, often through shared identities

  • C - COGNITIVE: your thinking process, capabilities and communication style

  • E - EXPERIENTIAL: your experiences

  • S - STRENGTHS: your talents, skills, and strengths

Using the ICES model pushes us to recognise ourselves and others more fully. Bring in the snowflake metaphor. Our ICES 'imprint' is like a snowflake, we're each beautifully unique. And each of these four areas have associations that can trigger our biases.

Funny side note: When I introduce this model I have learned to spell it first I-C-E-S. Otherwise, people have commented that hearing my American accent say ICES, immediately makes them think ISIS. Accents and associations - an example of diversity in action.

Identity diversity

A few identity examples: Ethnicity, race, gender, age, sexuality, physical ability, socioeconomic status, body type, marital status, political associations, religious affiliations, hobbies, sports, music taste.

What would some of mine be? American, Clevelander, Pakeha, Kiwi (permanent resident), Wellingtonian, Millennial, female, sister of four, auntie to many, kidless myself, partner, The Training Practice employee, Bowling Green State University alumni, sports fan: Cavs, Browns, Indians, All Blacks, Blackcaps, Hurricanes.

As you read that you would have unconsciously made associations (positive or negative) with those descriptors.

Imagine each one of those as an overhead transparency. Each transparency influences how you view the world and how others view you. Each transparency has an impact and some might be stronger than others. But it's the full view of you that people see projected (and see more when they get to know you).

I discussed this previously in this context of generations here and here so I'll give a generational example. One of my identities: Millennial.

This means I was introduced to computers at school. Touch typing is in my System 1 (automatic) - I can do it on autopilot essentially. When I hear that someone else is a Millennial, I assume that they are good with technology, can quickly type and digitally share thoughts, and are comfortable picking up new systems. If I heard I was working with a 'Boomer' I would instinctively think they'd be the opposite.

How I view others is absolutely impacted by the fact that I'm a Millennial. Just like my age impacts how others view me as well. I was once told I couldn't lead an unconscious bias workshop for senior leaders because I don't have enough experience (subtext: I'm too young to add value). Sounds like some conscious bias gone wild to me - but that's another blog entirely!

Cognitive diversity

What do we mean by this? People have varying cognitive capabilities, processes, and preferences. We communicate in different ways. How we retain information varies. Our communication style, social preferences, assumptions and the way we think all sits within this cognitive spaces.

What would some of mine be? No known cognitive disabilities, peacock communication style, highly extroverted, big picture not details, love to be in large groups, quick learner

Ask yourself:

Do you invite diversity of thought into your life? Your organisations? Your conversations?

Do you invite diversity of process into how people do things? Do you expect everyone to 'show up' the same?

I talked about an example of this here. I wanted to discuss things (no surprises there) and then go away and work, and my colleague needed the information to work on before he discussed things. That's an example of cognitive diversity in play.

Experiential diversity

A few things that affect the experiences we have: our identity groups, socioeconomic status, the people we know and associate with.

This list is endless. We internalise the experiences we've had - which triggers specific associations for us.

Many of our experiences do get tied back to our socioeconomic status: the opportunities we've had, what we've been exposed to, positive and negative associations with those experiences.

My experiences make me, me. Just like your experiences make you, you.

Here's an example: I have four siblings. With five kids in the house there always seemed to be noise (my poor parents). I'm not only comfortable with noise, I'm at ease with it. I can sleep through anything - something which baffles my partner. That being said, my experience as the middle child was much different than my sister's as the oldest.

Want to learn about other people's experiences? Ask them. Some starter questions:

  • What was your first job? (Lessons your learnt from there)

  • What was your school experience like?

  • When did you move out of home?

  • How did you stay connected with your friends growing up?

  • What's a phrase / saying your parents said that stuck with you?

  • Who lived in your house growing up?

  • What type of food do you enjoy?

  • What hobbies do you take part in?

  • What's a challenge / unique experience you overcame growing up?

Strengths diversity

Diversity of strengths is what makes our world go around. We're firm strengths believers at The Training Practice. A key principle of the strengths mindset is to leverage who you are, and stop trying to be someone you’re not. In short, be authentic.

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. -Albert Einstein

Recognising the individual abilities, innate talents, learned skills, expertise, and strengths of others is necessary for any strong relationship (whether work or personal). We talk a lot about this, and this blog is getting rather long. So, I'll point you to a Tea & Toast webinar where Dinah and myself talked all about the beauty of strengths in action.

Diversity and inclusion

Yes, that straight white man is diverse. And clearly acting like any 'group' is fully homogenous is not helpful. Because we're all diverse. But the goal is not diversity, it's inclusion - creating environments where diversity is valued.

What can you do to make people safe enough to peel back the layers and bring their whole selves to work?


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