The majority of people believe that workplace diversity is beneficial. The issue, on the other hand, is getting there. Quota-based corporate efforts to boost minority participation can spark controversy. Worst of all, new appointees often feel as if they were hired to fill a quota rather than for their abilities.
So, what’s the answer? In the book Difference Makers, two of Australia’s finest entrepreneurs and diversity champions set out to answer that question. Nicky Howe and Alicia Curtis think that the best place to begin is to redefine the term itself. What important are people’s diverse perspectives on the world, or “diversity of thinking,” rather than their visible differences.
And cultivating a business culture dedicated to encouraging open-ended, inclusive discourse starts even before applicants’ résumés arrive in your mailbox. The key is to alter your mindset and behavior in the boardroom. Fortunately, there are a plethora of cognitive tools available to assist you in this endeavor. So keep reading to find out how to start diversifying your firm!
What exactly is diversity? Many people respond to this question by mentioning visible differences such as gender or color. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t cover everything. Consider what distinguishes you. Intangibles like your personality, life experiences, and convictions are probably quite high on the list, right? That’s pretty much the point: individuals are more complex than they appear.
That’s why the Oxford Handbook of Human Resource Management focuses on the wide range of attributes that people have inside businesses rather than on evident markers of difference. To put it another way, diversity is about realizing that each individual is a complex tapestry made up of many different threads. Age, education, abilities, disabilities, culture, experience, philosophy, profession, and, of course, ethnicity and gender all influence who we are.
Unfortunately, we frequently concentrate on what we can see and overlook the unseen threads. As a result, many people believe that persons who look alike share the same opinions. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. And it is the cornerstone of a more comprehensive and true view of diversity: what counts most is diversity of ideas.
Why does it important to businesses? Equal representation is a desirable thing in and of itself, but it’s also a necessary aspect of doing business in today’s globe. That’s because we live in a world that’s becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, or “VUCA” for short.
The world around us is always changing. Consider the continent of Asia. By 2050, Asian cities will account for two-thirds of the global middle class and 20 of the top 50 cities, up from only eight in 2007. Then there’s digital advancement. Upstarts like Uber, Facebook, and Airbnb have surpassed once-dominant household names like Kodak and Blockbuster. In the meantime, globalization has created a corporate environment in which corporations must scour the globe for elite talent, not just within their own location.
Your company’s board and management must be as diverse as the marketplaces in which they operate if you wish to stay up with those developments and capitalize on the opportunities they bring. And being open, adaptive, and flexible is all about being open, adaptable, and flexible – something that’s a whole lot easier when your leaders are drawn from the biggest possible pool!
It pays to be diverse. That is the opinion of the world’s foremost business analysts. Take, for example, McKinsey’s 2014 report Diversity Matters. It reveals that extremely diversified companies are 35 percent more likely than their less varied peers to earn above-industry-average returns.
That isn’t surprising. According to the same survey, women and minority groups make the majority of purchasing decisions, thus businesses that better reflect these groups are more likely to attract their business. But, if it’s such a no-brainer, why aren’t more businesses taking advantage of it?
In a nutshell, bias. Humans have a natural tendency to judge others based on stereotypes rather than their genuine merits. These prejudices manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Consider the implicit prejudices that link specific groups to apparently typical characteristics: consider the links between men and science or Asians and arithmetic, for example. Then there’s bias inside a group. It’s a long-standing human trait to prefer people who are similar to us. Finally, there’s outgroup homogeneity, or the willingness to believe that other people aren’t as “complicated” as we are.
These hasty decisions have a significant impact on hiring practices and boardroom conduct. Have you ever wondered why so many companies’ boards are made up solely of middle-aged white men, why everyone in leadership roles went to the same school, or why meetings are set at times when those with family obligations are unable to attend? Put it down to prejudice!
Although bias is innate, it is not impossible to unlearn. That’s why today’s most effective leaders take the time to recognize their erroneous assumptions and implement remedial tactics to avoid repeating behaviors that perpetuate restricted group advantages.
Taking surveys like the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), an online tool that can help you detect subconscious patterns of association with weight, ethnicity, gender, and age, is a fantastic place to start. Simply being aware of your biases allows you to self-correct by asking yourself questions such, “Did I just presume that a male candidate is more ambitious than a female candidate because she has two children?”
However, the most effective strategy for combating bias is to increase your awareness of the world around you – a skill known as cultural competency. You can become a larger champion of diversity by living it out on a daily basis, whether it’s learning a new language, traveling with an open mind, or simply going out of your way to have meaningful conversations with people who aren’t like you.
As a result, we’re prone to preferring people who are similar to us and forming tiny, like-minded groups. When highly cohesive organizations are under duress, they have a tendency to favor consensus and make poor decisions. The term was coined by psychologist Irving Janis, the author of a 1972 study examining US foreign policy blunders such as the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the escalation of the Vietnam conflict.
However, groupthink isn’t simply a problem for military planners. When a board needs to make a speedy decision, they are equally as likely to overrule genuine objections and move forward with their objectives. The greatest way to avoid falling into that trap is to have an open-minded attitude to problem-solving. How? That’s where psychologist Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats concept comes in. It’s a cognitive tool that helps with critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and creativity. This is how it goes.
Consider six hats, each of which is a different color and represents a different way of thinking. Every piece of headwear is as simple to put on as it is to remove. That’ll come in handy because each board member will try on each hat in turn. The first is the White Hat, which represents a balanced and objective assessment of the facts. The Red Hat is for emotions: it allows the wearer to express their thoughts about a subject.
The Black Hat represents pessimism, and wearing it allows you to explore the drawbacks of a decision. Then there’s the Yellow Hat, the upbeat hat that allows you to focus on the benefits rather than the drawbacks. Meanwhile, the Green Hat represents originality; when you wear it, you should feel free to try out new ideas without fear of being condemned. Finally, the Blue Hat is responsible for ensuring that all six hats are worn appropriately.
When you ask specific questions for each hue, this practice works best. “What are the facts?” a sensible White could question. “What are the consequences of failure?” Black would like to know. “How do you feel about it?” Red would inquire. You can ensure that everyone in the boardroom is working hard to look at an issue from every available viewpoint by using it in the boardroom.
Check out my related post: How to recruit for diversity?