Diversity in info curation?

Each month I get the European Organisation Design Forum Newsletter, available to their members.  (I’m on the newsletter’s ‘Curatorial Board’.  The board member role is to suggest/select articles, books, podcasts, videos etc for inclusion).

I seem to now be on high diversity and inclusion alert because l noticed that all the contributions for the June newsletter were from white, western males.  It’s not a huge number of contributions each month but this month’s led me to wonder what we might be missing as a profession if our information, research and ‘look to figures’ are predominantly from that category.

Curious, I logged onto the EODF website (member’s area), I took a look at the Resource Library, ‘one of the most comprehensive collection of Org Design resources in the world, organised by 9 key themes.’  FYI, the themes are Agile organisations, Holacracy, Re-organisation and re-design, Change management,  Strategy and leadership, Collaboration, decision making and job design,  Structure and operating model,  HRM, culture and organisation development,  Emerging trends.

I picked the theme ‘Structure and Operating Model’.  There are 32 items in it.  16 are classified as ‘articles’, and 16 as ‘blogs’ (two of the blogs are + video).  Discounting the 6 blogs listed that I wrote, leaves 26 items.

Naming the authors gives us the following (some items were co-authored)  Bram, Ben Dankbaar, Sergio Caredda, Joost (two blogs) , George Romme, Aaron De Smet + Sarah Kleinman + Kirsten Weerda,  David B. Yoffie ,   Annabelle Gawer + Michael A. Cusumano, Barry Camson, Jack Fuller, Michael G. Jacobides + Martin Reeves, Ranjay Gulati, Adam Pearce, Zhang Ruimin, David Hanna, Yve Morieux, Nicolay Worren (two blogs) , Andrew Campbell, Dov Seidman, Pim de Morree, Gary Hamel +  Michele Zanini,  Simone Cicero  (two blogs),  Michael Bazigos + Jim Harter, Art Kleiner.

There are 29 authors in total with 3 articles co-authored with women.  There is no woman writing an article as a sole author.  I don’t know what gender each author identifies with as this is not stated so I’ve taken the names (and in some cases seen accompanying photos) which leads me to assume that of the 29 authors there are 4 women, there is one Chinese and one Indian American author.  I believe all the others are white males.   That’s 80% of the authors on this theme of organisation design are white males.

I’m taking that theme as representative of the others – so I’m lacking a rigorous, larger sample evidence base – but from observation and my knowledge of the field the theme does feel representative.   The organisation design field is dominated by white male speakers/writers for it.  And as I frequently suggest articles for inclusion I’m contributing to the domination of that category.

Presumably, but I don’t have data to back up this presumption, the fact that the ‘voice’ of organisation design is dominated by white, western males, reflects a deeper imbalance of ethnicity, gender, and (possibly) culture in the work that we do?   (On culture the writers of the articles I looked at are either American or European apart from Zhang Ruimin who is Chinese).

There’s not an easy answer to the question how to address the imbalance.  Other disciplines are asking the same question.  For example, a  recent film ‘Picture a Scientist’ ‘tells the stories of three female scholars, revealing the systemic and structural nature of gender discrimination and harassment in academic science. The film shows how intersections of sexism and racism shape experiences differently for white women and for women of color and how implicit bias both generates inequity and prevents us from noticing it.’

And the American Economic Association, on June 5th issued a statement saying that “we have only begun to understand racism and its impact on our profession and our discipline.”  As the author of the article on this says, ‘Openness to more diverse groups of people and ideas should enhance the profession’s understanding of the world. Barriers to entry are not only unfair, they could undermine healthy competition in the marketplace for ideas.

It’s time to examine whether there is implicit bias in the way we talk about, record, research and practice organisation design and whether this is undermining ideas, generating inequities, and limiting our understanding of the organisational worlds where we do our work.

When I saw June’s line-up of white, western male articles in the EODF newsletter, I suggested to the Curatorial Board that we could agree some principles for article inclusion, that would encourage a broader range.  A colleague responded, ‘Lovely idea Naomi, also when I think of inclusion of gender/ethnicity, I think we must highlight our EODF/ODF members works and writings. This also means cross cultural. Sometimes we go to the same well too often.  Our articles and readings should be broadly inclusive and representative of our hopes and professional experiences.’

So now I’m wondering what principles for inclusion would work to present some broader perspectives on organisation design.

One, I think is around language used.   I read an interesting blog, ‘Terminology: it’s not black and white‘ The NCSC now uses ‘allow list’ and ‘deny list’ in place of ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’.  And wondered if there are there organisation design terms or article language we should think about?   As an aside, when I first went to live in the US (from the UK), the US language use, and US sports terms as management speak left me feeling baffled at points.  And I remember having to explain ‘donkeys years’ to a colleague.   Are colloquialisms and some of the terms in common use in management articles excluding?

Another is about assumptions – perhaps we could choose articles and then critique or comment on the assumptions implicit in it.  For example, one of my assumptions, I often discuss with people in the Middle East and China whom I work with, is that organisation design should be a collaborative, involving process with a range of workforce members and other stakeholders.  Typically, their view of how organisations should/do organisation design doesn’t assume this.  So, a principle could be that each article comes with someone’s critique or observations on the implied assumptions in it.

A third principle could be to ask for suggestions for article/blog/podcast inclusion from the community of readers (or broader community).  On this principle there would be no standing Curatorial Board selecting articles but an open call or running list that people contributed to and the selection made by a rolling panel of people.

Differently we could look to the stated mission of the ODF ‘We are organization design practitioners who share knowledge, create community, and promote excellence in practice to help organizations around the world become more effective, successful, and inspiring.’   Or the EODF’s which is to be ‘a professional organisation design community that catalyses insight and inspiration for impact’.   And check that each item in the newsletter supports the achievement of those missions – with someone’s explanation of why they think it does.

What principles do you think we should adopt in selecting items for the monthly newsletter?  Let me know.

Image:  Beneath the Surface