Diversity and Inclusivity

“Differences challenge assumptions”  Mohandas Gandhi

Striving to increase workplace diversity is a very good business decision.  In a global analysis of over 2,000 companies, those with at least one female board member outperformed  those that did not have any women on the board.  In recent years a body of research has revealed another, more nuanced benefit of workplace diversity: non-homogenous teams are simply more effective.  Working with people who are different from you will challenge you (your brain) to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance.

Why does diversity have the potential to deliver such marked success?

Focus on Facts

People from diverse backgrounds might actually alter the behaviour of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking.  By focussing on facts and thus ignoring ethnic or cultural ‘loyalties’, diverse groups will interrogate and analyse what is established and tangible rather than that which is ‘felt’.  Moreover, diverse teams are more likely to constantly re-examine facts and remain objective, in turn encouraging greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint intellectual resources sharp and vigilant.  An indirect benefit of work place diversity is that you will  allow your employees to become more aware of their own potential biases— entrenched ways of thinking that can otherwise blind them to key information and even lead them to make errors in decision-making processes.

Detailed processing of those facts

Greater diversity may also change the way that your entire team analyses the information needed to make the best decisions.  A number of recent studies have led scientists to think that diverse teams may outperform homogenous ones in decision making because they process information more carefully.  Considering the perspective of an outsider may seem counterintuitive, but the payoff can be huge.

There follows an example of detailed fact processing in action conducted by Katherine Phillips of Northwestern University:

In a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Katherine Phillips of Northwestern University and her team divided sorority or fraternity members into four-member groups, each of which had to read interviews conducted by a detective investigating a murder. Three people in every group, referred to as “old-timers” in the study, came from the same sorority or fraternity, whereas the fourth, the so-called “newcomer,” was either a member of the same sorority or fraternity or a different one. The three old-timers in each group gathered to decide who was the most likely murder suspect. Five minutes into their discussion, the newcomer joined the deliberation and expressed their opinion as to who the suspect was.It turned out that although groups with out-group newcomers felt less confident about the accuracy of their joint decisions, they were more likely to guess who the correct suspect was than those with newcomers who belonged to the same group.

Diverse teams are more innovative

To stay competitive, businesses should always continue to innovate. One of the best ways to boost their capacity to transform themselves and their products may involve hiring more women and culturally diverse team members, research suggests. In a study, published in Economic Geography, the authors concluded that increased cultural diversity markedly improves innovativeness.  The results revealed that businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogenous leadership.

Human nature suggests that we all feel more at ease working with (and promoting) people who share our background, but don’t be fooled by your comfort. Hiring (and promoting) individuals who do not look, talk, or think like you, will allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking.  In the rapidly changing commercial environment in which we find ourselves, perhaps those businesses that have suffered and disappeared may have missed the opportunity to diversify and thus innovative appropriately.

In a nutshell, enriching your team with representatives of different genders, races, age groups and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s combined intellectual potential. Creating a more diverse workplace will help to keep your team members’ biases in check and, more importantly, make them question their assumptions.  At the same time, we need to make sure the organisation has inclusive practices so that everyone feels they can be heard.  All of this can make your team sharper and, ultimately, make your organisation more successful, whatever your goals.

“When everyone is included, everyone wins”

Jesse Jackson

cognitive, culture, diversity, influencing, leadership, resilience

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