When was the last time you heard how important it is to have a diverse team? The importance of including diverse perspectives and approaches in leadership, product development, and any problem-solving type of work.
Diversity means different things to different people. Simply, it means that your workplace or team should compose of people from varying personality characteristics, mainly by including people of different sex, gender, race, ethnicity, educational background, experience, etc. The more different people are, the more diverse your team is expected to be.
If things were so simple, we all could enjoy the advantages of diverse teams, such as faster problem solving, better decision making, higher creativity, and more. Your experience might be different.
Are you familiar with any of the following situations?
- My team is as diverse as it can get, but we still suffer from groupthink. You hired people from different background, experience, gender, and ethnicity, but people appear to be remarkably alike, share the same opinions, and barely engage in any conflicts. At first, you might like it since everyone gets along. However, the whole point of having a diverse team was to get more creativity and better decision making out of your people. When everyone thinks alike, everyone decides alike. The comfort comes with the price of conformity.
- I hire diverse people, but they run away. You have a very dominant type of people who succeed in your company. When you hire someone slightly different, that person tends to leave the company very quickly or conform to the way things are already done. It is frustrating as you waste a lot of money on onboarding people that are either not staying or never bring the value they were hired to bring.
- I want to hire diverse people, but I can't find them. Nobody applies. You keep asking the HR and recruitment team to hire people of color or more women, but none of them applies. When they do, they are usually significantly less qualified or fit to the role, so you don't hire them. Diversity doesn't mean we have to compromise on our quality, right?
What is going on?
Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. For the sake of this article, I will oversimplify. You probably tried to achieve diversity by hiring (or trying to hire) diverse people while keeping everything else the same.
What does it mean?
- Your culture is the same. Organizational culture encompasses the values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business (Wikipedia). When you hire diverse people, they would naturally bring different values, behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs to your organization. When your culture is not equipt to accommodate that diversity, people would perceive differences with fear rather than curiosity. That usually leads to people being pushed out or forced to conform.
- Your leadership is the same. the leadership in the organization dictate what others perceive as good or bad, what is to be rewarded or criticized? When someone new and different joins the organization, they will look to the leadership to understand what is ok and what isn't. When no one in the leadership actively promotes and sponsor diversity, they might think their uniqueness would stand between them and their success. Often leaders in the organization keep supporting people who follow their approach and criticize people who don't. Many people frequently believe that what worked for them so far is the only way to go. We all like people who are like us because it validates us. Don't you like to be told that you are right? We have no bad intentions. We just don't know how to behave differently.
- Your people are the same. Different personalities are attracted to different roles and work styles. For example, coaching roles attract many warm, agreeable, and accommodating people. Would a team of extremely competitive, non-agreeable people like an agreeable coach? Maybe. If they are not self-aware, they would consider that person a fluff or a push-over. Could a coach join that team and survive? Yes and no. That person may be highly resilient. However, if the team would keep pushing them, over time, they will become much less capable and confirm their bias - this person is a push-over. Like in any relationship, we should both accommodate each other's differences to overcome them. Different people require different work style and communication approach - on a personal level, team level, leadership level, and organization overall.
- Your structure and roles are the same. When you created the initial structure and roles, you probably designed to hire a specific type of people. Now that you are looking for diversity, your roles need to reflect that. It sounds straightforward that if you look for the same profile, you will get the same applicants. However, many organizations are surprised by it. For example, when women do not apply, they assume they are just not interested. There is indeed an imbalance of interest given one's personality. However, there are many ways to integrate different personalities by adjusting the structure and roles rather than expecting people to apply. Furthermore, when you look for the same profile as before, everyone who is different would be perceived as lower quality - even if they are competent to do the work. You might think you reject them because they are not good enough, but sometimes you just reject different.
Diversity is not an outcome of hiring people of different gender or color; it is an outcome of seeking and accommodating different personalities at work. Integrating diversity to your workplace or team requires education on what diversity is, what personality is, and how people differ. It requires breaking our biases on what the right ways are and what is perceived as good or bad. Lastly, it has to be a top-down inside-out solution that covers everything from your culture, your leadership, each individual, and even your structure and roles.
This article is my opinion given what I have observed in organizations so far, what I implemented in my team and the scientific research I conducted. I am always happy to be challenged.
Bar Schwartz is the Head of Technology at medneo and an executive coach and founder of Lead2Coach.
With over a decade's experience in delivering software products in continuously changing environments, Bar challenges leaders to focus on the human side of every transformation.