Why Diversity is Critical to Performance

Exerpt: Whatever your views on diversity, its not just about being fair, or seen to be doing the right thing or creating opportunity for minorities.

Much has been written and spoken about gender balance.  Some support quotas, others targets.  Our sense of social justice demands ethnic balance and ageism skulks around in the background.  But whatever your views on diversity, its not just about being fair, or seen to be doing the right thing or creating opportunity for minorities.

There is sound business sense in having a diverse work force in your organization.  If you just hire people who are just like you, people who think like you then it’s like making a cake with just flour!  You are limiting yourself and your business.  Diversity overcomes the gaps and blind spots  which exist in a team without variety.

Diversity closes the experience gap:  With all the discussion around millenials, baby boomers and generation X the fact remains that each has something valuable to bring to the other.  I have a lot of experience in business and life, but my energy levels are not what they were 30 years ago.  On the other hand, I love to be around younger individuals who have boundless energy and enthusiasm.  Bringing experience and energy together in individuals who can respect each other and learn openly from each other is powerfully innovative.

Diversity closes the perspective gap: It is very easy to be blinded to our own views and exist in our own bubble.  Our perspective is limited to our experience and knowledge.  Only with the perspective of others can we grasp the bigger picture and see other possibilities.  In business, options are crucial to navigate through difficult times.  If you have a limited perspective, you fail to see opportunities.

Diversity closes the problem-solving gap:  Shared thinking is much more powerful than lone thinking.  People inspire each other and build on each other’s thoughts. Some individuals are technical, while others may be collaborative.  Other’s still might be visionary, or emotional, while their team mate may be analytical.  Every different outlook and personal gift is multiplied when shared.  This ensures deeper thinking and creative solutions to business issues.

Diversity closes the intolerance gap:  Working with others from different backgrounds, different creeds and different cultures brings about a climate of interest and tolerance.  People are more open to the “foibles” of others, less critical and more understanding.  This can have a ripple effect in the organization and inspire people to respect their differences and not be an issue between them.

One of the problems facing organisations today is that so often we have inbuilt biases that we are not even aware of – unconscious bias.  We bring experiences and learnings all the way from childhood which are inbuilt. Decisions we make for example, when hiring someone can often be impacted by this bias even though we don’t intend it to be.

Orchestras in the 1980 began to use “blind auditions” when choosing orchestra members.  Women musicians in orchestras increased by a minimum of 20%.  It was not that judges intended to pick only men, they just weren’t aware of their bias.

Bias is difficult to pinpoint in ourselves and there is a lot of work going into training in this area, particularly in large global companies. Recruitment is an areas where extra vigilance is needed.   But there are a number of things you can do yourself, to challenge your own biases.

  1. Focus on the person. Get to know the person, their background and experiences.  Learn about their strengths and visualize where those skills would compliment the team.
  2. Declare your intention to have a diverse workplace so that others around you know and understand what behaviours are tolerated and what not.
  3. Mind the language and wording you use. Avoid stereotyping. As a business leader, this is mandatory anyway but especially where bias can be clearly ruled out.
  4. Be open to the benefits of having a diverse team and generate an understanding in the team of how much each person is valued and can contribute.

If you have hired a diverse team, ensure that you are not expecting them all to conform to a norm that you have set – then you loose all the benefits of the diverse contributions that you could harness.

As with any team, the power of the group far exceeds the sum of the individuals.  But with a diverse group, the wider perspective, problem-solving and experience pools at your disposal multiply that synergy exponentially.

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