Book Review:

The Power of Difference

by Simon Fanshawe

5 April 2023

This is an outstanding book, an amazing combination of a serious subject written in a very accessible way. There’s a relevant research reference, insight or idea on every page – for me, it’s the best academic ‘page turner’ I’ve ever read. The two main topics of the book are diversity and inclusion; it is equally well informed on each subject, drawing from both academic research and social activity that many of us will remember, such as the Sparkhill School ‘standoff’ in Birmingham where the ‘No Outsiders’ policy was hotly disputed, and the furore created in the media when a children’s book featuring a gay couple was published in the UK. Starting with the key question ‘what is diversity for?’, the book challenges current thinking and approaches in an invigorating and inspiring way. It provides a sensitive, multi-perspective pathway through a tricky and complex issue.

This book achieves what it intends: to raise awareness, generate deeper understanding, and inspire action to make a difference. It is, in my view, a must-read.

strongly recommended if you’re interested in:

& here are the key takeaways...

Why psychological safety is important

The book regularly emphasises the need for such safety for divergent views to exist and be encouraged. As Fanshawe says, ‘safe spaces don’t offer safety from disagreement, they offer safety for disagreement’

4 key criteria for changing minds

Fanshawe offers 4 key criteria for changing minds: for the individual to change, they must 1) be convinced by the underlying principle (for example that it delivers fairness); 2) that it benefits society (ie relates to something beyond individual or group self interest); 3) know and care about someone affected adversely by the current situation (ie have an emotional connection); and 4) be reassured that they are not going to lose out personally. This seems to me to be an appropriate but challenging list…

Impression management & virtue signalling

Too many organisations adopt and publish virtuous principles, without putting them into practice. Fanshawe calls this ‘virtue signalling’: saying the right thing, but doing very little

Challenging conversations & the power of choice

In an especially moving and inspiring part of the book the author tells the story of Jo and Patrick: Jo lost her father in the Brighton Hotel bombing; Patrick planted the bomb. Eventually, through Jo’s hard work and persistence, the two met, and had a conversation followed by further conversations. The purpose, for Jo, was to seek some understanding; as she says “(My father’s death) changed my life forever, and I’m still dealing with (those feelings). But what do I do with those feelings, that’s where the choice is. Do I harness those feelings and transform them and bring them into a different kind of future. And the answer is, yes, I do”. And so, to the meetings. And having met several times, here’s Patrick’s response: “I’ve never come across someone so open and with such dignity. I had to confront that I’m sitting with someone whose father I killed. There’s no hiding behind politics or rehearsed arguments. At the moment we met we were communicating as two human beings”

The first step is to stop hiding from responsibility for bias by calling it ‘unconscious’
Labels shouldn’t contain people. They should be enablers of difference, not prisons of sameness.

How the simple act of listening provides momentum for transformation

Referring to the same conversation, Fanshawe records that in a 90 minute conversation, the word ‘hear’ was said 30 times – representing a willingness to hear each other, to include each other.

Striving to create an inclusive environment cannot mean closing down difference

Organisational norms and individual compliance in a diverse setting

If a company introduces a new policy, regulation, procedure, code of practice – a new norm – what will the effect of this be on a diverse workforce? What if some disagree – for whatever reason? Does work – legitimately – set conditions that have to be supported, even if they challenge other, equally legitimate, personal or group norms? Alternatively, how much time and attention should be given by an organisation to develop these areas of corporate unity and governance so they take on board the full diversity of its workforce? This leads to a discussion of passive and covering behaviour: passive behaviour: not declaring any objection; covering: declaring an objection but attempting to conform.  

How authentic can everyone be at and in work? 

The common plea to ‘bring your whole self to work’ may be difficult, if an organisational requirement challenges an individual or group norm or value. And if being authentic means they object, or refuse to comply, their reality is that there could be serious consequences…

Trust 

This ties back to psychological safety; for people to be open and honest, there needs to be trust. And trust requires psychological safety

Creativity & teamwork

Diversity often generates creativity, innovation and insight: in one example, managers commented that working with ADHD team members improved communication across the whole team; and in another example, deciding to recruit FOR diversity significantly created greater team effectiveness

People that appear to have the same identity do not speak with one voice

The Power of Difference

by Simon Fanshawe

Intelligent, compassionate and insightful, an outstanding book on the subject; well researched, with scores of helpful and positive suggestionsopen

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