The Diversity Distraction

A hyper-connected world

In our busy and hyper-connected 24/7 world, we’re never far from distractions. The internet, social media, phone calls, group messages, advertising, rolling news – we’re constantly being interrupted. It’s fair enough to partly blame technology – our electronic devices were specifically designed to hijack human attention and they do it extremely effectively. But humans are also pretty good at distracting themselves. If you’ve been working from home for the first time during the COVID 19 crisis you’ll understand what I mean!  Suddenly there’s a fridge full of food, household chores, chats with family members, homeschooling, a new series of Killing Eve and glasses of wine in sunny gardens to contend with. You can finish that project later, right?

Instant gratification

Fundamentally, a distraction is anything that diverts our attention from what we should be focusing on. Typically, it offers a more immediate, easier or more satisfying reward than the thing it is distracting us from. A coffee break is more appealing than writing that difficult email, binge-watching a Netflix series into the small hours is much more exciting than going to bed on time with a herbal tea, and reclining on the sofa is definitely a lot less effort than going for a run.

External and internal distractions

The problem with distractions is that they make us less productive and make it much harder to achieve our goals. Researchers at the University of California discovered that it takes people on average 23 minutes to get back to their original task once distracted at work and another study showed that even a three second interruption made people twice as likely to make mistakes. So these external distractions hinder us and can impact the quality of our work. Much more dangerous though are internal distractions – by this I mean, distractions that happen in our minds. These distractions don’t just interrupt or delay us – they can actually rob us of our dreams and potential. Thought drama, which i talked about on the blog recently, is a form of mental procrastination because it distracts us from taking action in life.  More seriously, we can be distracted by focusing on things that we can’t control. Doing this distracts us from taking ownership of our lives and careers, finding opportunities and seeking solutions.

The diversity distraction

Being distracted by things you can’t control in this way is particularly important when it comes to the issue of diversity in the workplace. The diversity distraction arises when you focus on the lack of diversity in your organisation and all the ways this is holding you back in your career. If you’re a woman, focusing on the lack of female role models or women in senior management and the white, all-male culture of your organisation diverts your attention away from tapping into your own power and resourcefulness – the confidence, resilience, flexibility, courage, ambition, creativity and determination you have available to you to transcend this cultural barrier. The same is true if you are black, Asian or of other minority ethnicity: focusing on the lack of diversity in your organisation, particularly at the most senior level, may be justified but it doesn’t serve you. Of course, there are entrenched systemic problems with a lack of diversity in many areas of society and we should all be exerting pressure for real change. But we shouldn’t just wait for that change and let it stop us from progressing. Focusing negatively on the lack of diversity in your organisation paralyses you and distracts you from doing the work you’re here to do: that is to live your dreams and reach your highest potential.

How to tell if you’ve succumbed to the diversity distraction:

  1. You spend lots of time talking about the lack of diversity in your organisation
  2. You frequently lament the lack of role models ahead of you and take this as evidence that you can’t succeed
  3. You see the lack of diversity in your organisation as proof that to get ahead, to fulfil your potential, you need to go elsewhere
  4. You regularly attend diversity events / talks/ seminars that spend more time focusing on the problem than they do on discussing the solution
  5. You have never stopped to consider that by focusing on fulfilling your potential, on progressing your career in spite of the lack of diversity around you, that you can be part of the solution.

If these statements resonate with you, tune into this week’s podcast for tips on overcoming the diversity distraction. I also discuss the concept in my upcoming book about Imposter syndrome in the BAME community. Be The First: How to Own Your Imposter Syndrome and be the Role Model You Never Had is scheduled for publication in October.