Come March and you see organizations planning gender diversity events on one hand and the media actively talking about dashboards around percentage of women in the workforce on the other. Some industry leaders even take it to the next level and talk about the importance of having a diversity and inclusion initiative, how they can contribute to the bottom-line success et al.
But despite all the talk about diversity and inclusion, few people actually take the time to reflect on what the term actually means and what the benefits are?
So, what does it mean to be diverse? Diversity is the first step in ensuring that the organization represents the customer base it serves – by having diverse segments – men, women, elderly, millennial, differently-abled from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities. While many organizational leaders acknowledge workforce diversity as an asset to be leveraged, I harbor a suspicion that the concept is more frequently understood in terms of ensuring presence of diverse segments than utilizing the diversity of thought!
You may promote diversity because you have to or because it's politically correct to have a representation of diverse segments. To my mind, however, the most important reason organizations need to promote diversity is because a diverse group of people brings diverse ways of thinking about things, hence the case for Thought Diversity.
Thought diversity is the real reason why diversity focused organizations is known to be more successful. On the contrary, organizations that chase the diversity dashboard but don’t leverage the divergent thinking therein may still fail miserably! Let me explain.
Does your organization suffer from “GroupThink”? Can I be myself?
As organizations grow in scale, one of the common issues that cause them to plateau is the tendency for “GroupThink”. “GroupThink” occurs when one or two people or personality styles dominate a group’s culture so completely that there is no room for those with other styles or perspectives. This can manifest in the form of people hiring only those who think as they do or of the dominant thinkers badgering others into accepting their ideas, critically downplaying the value of others’ ideas.
Senior executives are recognizing that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds is crucial to innovation and the development of new ideas. Thought diversity allows for differing perspectives on ideas and unique insights into problems. It creates opportunities for innovation, perspectives and even entrepreneurship.
GroupThink – manifests in gender diversity too – where women feel the need to act like men to succeed. Do we accept or celebrate the differences we have amongst us? How often do we really encourage THOUGHT DIVERSITY as a plan and strategy in our organizations and how many times does the odd voice get muted and shut off?
Diversity to Inclusion to Strategic Leverage
While a diversity focused organization ensures presence of diverse segments in its workforce – it takes beyond ‘having’ diversity for us to ‘leverage’ diversity. Inclusiveness is probably the first step. An inclusive organization is the one where its strategy, work management and operating systems, its core values and norms for success are shaped by the diversity of knowledge and perspectives that members of different groups bring to the organization and where members of all groups are treated fairly and are included and represented at all organizational levels and decisions.
The next level, of course, is going from inclusion to proactively planning diversity as a strategy—leveraging it consciously as a strategic lever—not just among employee groups but even their boards! Boards could usefully consider how best to accommodate diversity of thought and diversity of experience to improve their decision-making. Diverse perspectives add tremendously to the quality of input and perspectives that the board can provide to organizations.
Central to an organization’s ability to fully leverage thought diversity is its ability to learn from diverse perspectives and occasionally let go of the speed and ease that comes from having only one way – to glean the advantages of multiple options. Do we encourage that as a practice?
The way an organization is structured makes a difference. Focus groups, cross-functional teaming, practices for knowledge sharing, idea mining and crowd sourced problem-solving and feedback are vehicles that open opportunity for learning from diversity of thought.
Does your organization recognize Thought Diversity? How can we encourage it? Are you making the most of it, or are you just assuming because it’s there it will have a positive impact? Let’s reflect!