Diversity and skill-set loss

By Joyeeta Das

When we forget diversity, we forget the potential locked away in brains that could have brought us immense value

The Toubou tribe in the Sahara desert lives in one of the harshest terrains known to man. The women in these tribes travel hundreds of kilometers. They reach market towns where they trade for supplies that last up to 6 months. If they miss the water supply points along the way they may die, as often is the case.

To travel in such large, uniform-looking desert land, they count ridges, navigate the night sky, and use their intuition. They often reach their destination after weeks of hard work. There is no compass, no cell phones, not even enough food. Their strong sense of instinct is the reason the women and children can make this hard journey. The men do not undertake this.

Imagine if we brought such an intuitive woman to design travel experiences in a long-distance coach journey or make her in charge of optimized travel routes.

When we forget diversity, we forget the potential locked away in brains that could have brought us immense value

UPS made a 30-page algorithm and created a pioneer system called ORION. Today it saves them $400M per annum. It saves UPS millions of miles through route optimization and fuel usage. I wonder could this have been made much even earlier if we had enough diversity in our workforce?

They say that if man was inspired by the principles of the flying fish rather than the bird, we could have made flying in the air much earlier. We followed the wrong example—we should have looked broadly enough. The variable lift to drag ratio of flying fish, as well as the capability to deal with ground effect, are remarkable.

But we were looking at only birds, not fish.

So, that neighbor’s child you lost to cancer…maybe the solution to that stage of the disease is locked in the head of an underprivileged 15-year-old boy in Bangladesh who yearns to go to medical school someday.

Today, we produce enough food for eight billion people on this planet yet more than half are hungry. Could resource allocation have been better? Maybe we should bring in the slum dwellers of Mumbai. They are good at optimizing every grain of food. They know where it should be distributed and redistributed—bringing any of them to a food distribution and planning committee could be game-changing.

When we have discriminated knowingly or unknowingly against ethnicities, gender, age groups, physical abilities, sexual preferences, we have missed out on terrific opportunities sitting on our doorsteps.

With a group of children I taught in 2014 for a short week. Their learning curve was 3.5x steeper compared to similar age groups elsewhere

I have worked as a volunteer from a young age. I started helping my mother when I was only 8 years old. She took me to areas like prison reform, rehabilitation of sex workers, substance abuse, youth reform projects, and juvenile delinquents from challenged backgrounds. While teaching them I found the participants sharper, eager, more focussed. On average, I found them better prepared for lateral thinking than youth from privileged backgrounds. From an epigenetic perspective, one needs that kind of skill-set to survive in harsh circumstances.

Equal opportunities for all is the route to success

The point I am trying to make is not about women leaders or opportunities for the poor. The point is about equal opportunities for all. Not because it is the compassionate thing to do, but because it is a smart thing to do for our own future.

Skills-matching is a trillion-dollar industry in the HR sector. Yet, we have not taken into account almost 65% of humanity. Fathom the scale of that loss at a cerebral level?

Yeah, the naysayers will say “what about training, what about education and whatnot”. To them I ask, “you can teach those things, can you not?”

We are sitting in an age where humans find it easier to find each other on a 5cm device in their palm than next to each other in real life. It is easy to include, communicate, and broaden our perspectives. Unlike older generations, we do not have to wait for years to cross seas to see the “ways of the others”. Satellites have made sure we do not have to leave our chairs or even turn our heads (VR/AR). Information is being made and consumed super effortlessly and finds its way to everyone at light speed.

We can solve every problem- we can go to Mars faster, fix global warming, cure AIDS, fly without wings, apprehend criminals and intercept organized terrorism and perhaps even telecommunicate if we took into account the potential locked in so many brains across the world. Once it is unlocked, the age of information technology operating at optical speed will only take seconds for that solution to assimilate and reach us all.

The diversity potential is unprecedented for the social-media generation.

Many people say to me, “this is going to take forever, I only care about my lifetime”. To those, I say, “it will only be a matter of few years to get to fruition if everyone acts now, today.”

Today, Mark Wahlberg donated $1.5M to the “Time’s Up” fund to balance the gender pay gap. This means it took 24 hrs ( and a few months of twitter outrage) to change how someone will be treated just tomorrow morning onwards!

That is all it takes.

We are not talking of lifetimes here, we are talking of years and months and weeks and days. You can see the change for yourself and for your kids. Technology is accelerating and amplifying every impact we make. It is making the time to get to visible and measurable results become shorter by manifolds!

Wasting this potential listening to pseudo-scientific facts, half-hearted efforts, and waiting for things to get better are crimes against humanity. We now have the chance at a completely transformed life. To be a bystander is a crime against future generations and it is a crime against our own life. So many of our threats could have been eliminated, so much pain would go away and so many chances to flourish will have landed in our lap.

I support diversity because it is the smart thing to do. So should you if you care about your own progress and quality of life. When I walk on a bridge I want to be sure I can trust it. When I learn, I must get the best teacher. When I buy food and bring it home, I want to know the best hands have grown it. When I speak to a doctor, I want the best I can get.

And when I am creating a workforce, I want to give the best I can to the world.

Don’t you?

Joyeeta Das

Joyeeta Das is the co-founder and CEO of Gyana.