Top critical review
27 people found this helpful
Lots of insight, not much help
on May 1, 2010
The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity While Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work," by Laura Liswood, takes its title from the Chinese saying that "The loudest duck is the one that gets killed." She contrasts that saying with the American one that "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" to make two points.
Many of our ideas about effective behavior and other people come from what we learned growing up. They affect how we react to diversity in the workplace and elsewhere, but we're rarely aware of them because they work on a subconscious level.
When you hear the word "diversity" in American business it can have many meanings. It might mean, the mix of perspectives that you want on a project team to increase odds of innovative outcomes.
"Diversity" may be a description of the workforce. Today, there are people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds at all levels. And, increasingly, there are women in the rarefied air of the C-suite that was once reserved for White men.
Some see "diversity" as a problem. It's just one more thing that poor, harried managers have to put up with.
On the very first page of her Introduction, Laura Liswood says:
"Diversity isn't the problem. The problem is that we bring our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and who others are into the workplace. The more diverse the workplace, the more likely it is that we won't have a fair and level playing field, not because of the diversity, but because of how we treat those who are different from ourselves."
So the primary goal of the book is to create a more level playing field by identifying unconscious beliefs about ourselves and others who are different from us. That's a worthy goal.
The strength of the book is that Liswood does a good job with the first part of that goal. She says things that need to be said, often in ways that make it easy to remember them.
The first chapter deals with corporate diversity programs. Liswood describes many of them as "Noah's Ark" programs because they concentrate on getting "enough" of different groups on the boat. It's a great phrase that makes it easy for you to capture her basic meaning.
She titled chapter 3, "Tell Your Grandma to Go Home." Your Grandma becomes the surrogate for the values and beliefs you absorbed growing up. Again, it's a concept in a nutshell.
Other chapters are similar. They're filled with insights and provocative questions that will help you explore your own attitudes and beliefs. If that's what you want to do, this is an excellent book.
But there are problems with the book that make it a poor choice if you want to make your organization more effective. That's true whether the organization is a small project team or a giant corporation.
Diversity is presented as such a large and complex issue that it's hard to get your brain around it. Here are the groups Liswood mentions in the chapter on Noah's Ark: national origin; age; culture; religion; gender; sexual orientation; socioeconomic or class; marital status; family; language; place within the organization; hobbies; and physical appearance. She notes that this "is not an exhaustive list."
Liswood also never helps you get across the yawning chasm between understanding and performance. Instead, there is the unsubstantiated and unstated assumption that if you become more aware of your unconscious beliefs, your behavior will automatically change.
There's another assumption, too. This one is about corporate performance. Discussing "Objections to Diversity," Liswood says:
"Many are skeptical that diversity is a tool for success, because they haven't read the business cases that outline the empirical evidence to support these claims."
This is a golden opportunity to make the business case for increased diversity or for a more level playing field at work. Instead of seizing the opportunity, she invites skepticism, by blowing off the reader's experience or other studies that don't make her point.
There's also a problem with language. Consider the term "diversity," itself and the many ways it's used. Sometimes it's a simple description. Sometimes "diversity" is the goal. And sometimes we're asked to "move beyond diversity" or to achieve "true diversity."
If you want to identify and examine some of your unconscious beliefs about other people and how they act, The Loudest Duck is an excellent choice. If you're reading to gain insight so you can help your own team become more of a meritocracy, The Loudest Duck will be helpful, but you'll need other resources.