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Out of the echo chamber

Chika Aghadiuno on the importance of allowing our views to be challenged 


07 MARCH 2019 | CHIKA AGHADIUNO
p25_opinion_credit_Elisabeth_Moch
©ElizabethMoch


A few months ago, I was challenged very robustly by a friend about my activity in the diversity and inclusion space. 

I’d like to say that I defended my position in an equally robust fashion and eventually got them to see the error of their ways. But the reality was that they put across some not unreasonable arguments, and my usual counter-arguments fell on deaf ears; even to me, they just did not seem as convincing on this occasion. If I’m honest, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me, which was not conducive to my best debating skills. 

The conversation reinforced for me some long-held views of mine. One: in the workplace generally – but certainly in the context of diversity and inclusion – we are not always exposed to enough honest and open debate and challenge. Two: a significant body of friends, colleagues and family are quietly sceptical and weary of the relentless diversity drum that continues to bang in our corporate world and beyond. I would like to have a go at tackling both issues. 

When change is required, there is no point in operating in an echo chamber and having conversations solely with people who agree with us – particularly when it comes to changing mindsets, as is often the case in matters of gender in the workplace. And yet this is often the scenario at many diversity and inclusion events. 

We should be confident about listening to dissenting voices to test our views, challenge our thinking and perhaps evolve our positions as we learn from others. If we are to influence others and change mindsets we need to engage with the very people who are inclined not to engage – who opt, instead, to dismiss, or at best glimpse and disregard. And where there is underlying support, it can often be in a passive, inactive sense (see my blog from last year on this topic).

We need to hear and understand different viewpoints. I’ve posed below some of the arguments and questions I have come across. While most of them apply to gender equality, they could equally be applied to other diversity issues:

  • Are targets and quotas arbitrary and doomed to failure?
  • Should the aim be equal opportunity, as opposed to equal outcomes?
  • If you are good enough, won’t you just do well anyway? 
  • Aren’t women achieving as never before? In the IFoA, for example, we can look to three female presidents in recent years. 
  • Are many of the obstacles attributed to gender erroneous? Are we ignoring other explanatory variables, such as personality and behaviours?
  • The gender pay gap is poorly understood and is often confused with equal pay, resulting in a lack of engagement.

The purpose of this article isn’t to address these points, but to encourage us all to reflect on some of these questions and encourage us to have a grown-up conversation to see if we can help each other to better understand the issues and find a way forward together.

For the record, after my friend’s strong challenge, I did sleep on it and came up with some killer arguments, and all the things I could have said in response. However, I know I still don’t have all the answers. I want to hear the counter arguments, get better at understanding all perspectives and enjoy the discussion and debate in the process. Let’s get out of the echo chamber and start having a challenging and considerate conversation with each other. 

If you are organising an event for International Women’s Day, be sure to bring into the room as many dissenting voices as possible. If you would not normally attend such events, challenge yourself!


Chika Aghadiuno is chair of the IFoA Diversity Advisory Group


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