On Diversity

It has become more and more common to vocally declare oneself in favor of diversity, notably in tech. I do not think, however, that what diversity actually brings is well understood across the industry. Diversity of all types and an open, dynamic workplace has been a pillar at Booking.com since day one, and something we continue to strongly believe in and build today.

At one level, having a diverse team makes it easier to build products for a larger and more diverse audience from all over the world. But the concept of diversity is far from simply contributing to the effectiveness of a business organization.

The individuals

Diversity and embracing diversity are much more profound. First and foremost, it is important for each person to be accepted. In a workplace where diversity is recognized and highly regarded there is less emphasis on conforming to a supposedly standard model of behavior. People are freer to just be themselves. Conversely, playing a role and trying to blend in can take a large, underestimated toll on our cognitive resources. Remove that and people will be more open, more creative, and more willing to bring in ideas and critiques, instead of trying to disappear in the background for fear of being singled out as not fitting the expectations of the loudest or the dark matter of unconscious or unspoken prejudice.

The teams

This is not all. In a diverse team people naturally become more attuned to the nuances of communication. What is left untold can no longer be assumed; it must effloresce, because the shared cultural background is much smaller. Therefore, the risk of having teams becoming dysfunctional because of miscommunication decreases.

The communication

Speaking of communication: valuing diversity also means taking active steps to ensure that our work environment is safe for everyone. It is far too easy—easier than many realize—to create a toxic work environment through disrespectful communication and lack of empathy.

By definition, any work environment is a small, closed group from which it’s difficult to walk away. Inside such a group, everyone should have an equal opportunity to be part of the group conversation with nobody feeling diminished or a less worthy contributor. Freedom of expression, often used as a justification to say anything, even offensive, can also though be the cover for a fraction of the group dominating all expression, even unintentionally.

For example, not everyone feels empowered to answer to a remark that shocks them. If you do feel empowered to respond, it's likely that you are already part of that more vocal, dominant fraction of the group (which is not always the majority). Therefore, issuing a shocking or hurtful remark, can effectively mean cornering other colleagues into silence, even if unwillingly. (And remember that locker-room banter always comes out eventually.) This is OK still; failing is acceptable as long as we fail fast and learn (one of our core mantras at Booking.com). In other words, if someone speaks up denouncing an affront, a fast acknowledgement and apology reinforces the message that speaking up is welcome and valued by all of us.

The community

Finally, diversity is valuable for our own, personal sake, apart from being in the interest of the company we work for. We spend a large part of our lives at work. Why should work be, at all, about interacting with rows of faceless clones, all alike? Why wouldn't you choose colleagues that will teach you, challenge you, enrich you, and make you better instead? Why wouldn't we encourage you to contribute in the same ways?

Be humble, open, and friendly and remember that our diversity gives us strength. After all, this is one of our cornerstone values at Booking.com.

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