“Uncle Dilip, which one is me?” said Jia Li pointing to the Human Variation exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences.
I had taken my daughter and her best friend Jia Li to this museum when the schools were closed during the January omicron surge.
The girls had a tough time understanding why we looked different.
“I am this girl here, and you are that girl here…” said my daughter.
They both discussed which exact shade of brown they were.
“Appa, what are these yellow dots, and what do they mean” asked my daughter.
I read aloud the descriptive text at the Human Variation exhibit.
We’re not as different as we may think.
Look around you. Some people have light skin, others dark. Some are tall and some short. But if you take a closer look into our DNA, you’ll find we’re all 99.9% identical.
Skin color is an adaptation to sunlight.
Our species originated in Africa near the equator, where dark skin protected against harmful UV rays. As humans moved away from the equator, natural selection favored a lighter skin color…
“We’re all the same? But we look so different,” said Jia Li. Both the girls patiently awaited a response from me.
I wasn’t prepared for such a discussion with preschoolers. Should I change the subject?
To educate, I felt compelled to try to explain this.
Looking around the room, searching for inspiration, I said, “Let me see…”
I wasn’t sure if it was intentional, but the museum had several exhibits of Antelope.
“Look at the different kinds of Antelope. Do these animals look similar to you?” I asked them.
Particularly the Sable and Roan Antelope. They had a large, Elk-like build, longhorns, and a patterned face.
When asked to point out the differences, they did so with haste.
The Sable has a darker, brownish-black coat despite being from the same genus Hippotragus and found in the same range in South Africa (in savannah woodlands and grasslands).
I tried to understand better why the Sable has the darker coat. I couldn’t find much on this topic. One article that stood out from the Namibia Nature Foundation suggested:
- Sable’s attraction to burns might explain its coat color for blending.
- The sexual dimorphism in Sable, might relate to the breed favoring extreme contrast colors in males.
I didn’t come to many conclusions on this topic with the girls. However, they knew enough to understand how humans can be almost 99.9% identical but still have enough variation in that 0.1% to look noticeably different.
So that had me thinking.
When we hire leaders, we often hear the saying “the candidate doesn’t have the same DNA” or “they’re not cut from the same cloth.”
What does that mean?
If we share 99.9% of the DNA, if we are trying to find someone who has a particular DNA similar to us or someone we are referencing, we’re talking about that 0.1%.
This article suggests that the theoretical probability that same-sex siblings could share the same DNA is that it is 246 of about 70 trillion.
The probability of finding someone with the same DNA or “cut from the same cloth” is close to zero.
So we subconsciously look for other similarities, habits, favorite hobbies, network connections, similar backgrounds, or University attendance.
All of this introduces subconscious bias.
When I was working at Marqeta, the facilitator guided us through a team-building exercise at one of the management team events.
The topic was mentorship, and we were asked to write down the top five mentors who have influenced our careers. The list could not contain a life partner or a sibling.
After we all came up with our lists, we were asked to add a few columns – ethnicity, religion, gender, political leaning, education.
Within the first five minutes, the whole group realized that our mentors didn’t have diversity.
Similarly, we didn’t have diversity in our networks.
If you’ve been struggling to hire women or ethnic minorities in your team, this is where you could start.
Accept that nobody will be “cut from the same cloth” or “have the same DNA.”
We have to be willing to take bets on those who might feel dissimilar to us but share 99.9% of our DNA.
There’s a level playing field in situations where the supply doesn’t exist.
Nimi’s team has spent an incredible amount of energy and effort to hire talent. We understand that we have a role to play here in dispelling this bias.
We see the enormous OPPORTUNITY here.
We can invest in women and minorities in the IT industry, show them that there is an equal chance for success, and offer the benefits that those with children and aging parents need.
By focusing on this, we’re starting to build a 360 degrees wellness package that’s a lot more meaningful than a fully stocked bar and a basketball court.
We invite all the leaders in Sri Lanka to rise to this responsibility and join us in this effort.