“Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing each other's uniqueness.”
The benefits of diversity, which are not only limited to gender and ethnicity, are well documented and proven. Which is why almost every organization has made it a key company focus and part of their hiring strategy.
However, there is a distinct difference between having a diverse team and actually reaping the benefits of diversity. As simply having a diverse team does not guarantee this and thought and effort needs to be placed into nurturing an environment where the benefits of this can be reaped. No one denies how challenging diversity can be as it requires an openness of mind and ability to see things not only from completely different perspectives, but to also appreciate this. It also means being open enough to accept or acknowledge that maybe there is a different or even better way of doing things.
Doing so requires the following on an individual level:
a learning mindset where individuals care about what is right rather than who is right
a degree of humility
an openness to people with differing perspectives
a healthy self esteem
Without these, there is a risk that we feel threatened by that which is different and feel a need to block it out and make that which is different conform to the way things currently are or conform to the majority. We try very hard to make others see things the way we see things or do things the way we do things. We want others to see, do and think the way we do. And in so doing we kill the real benefits of diversity. Here is a scenario of what this could look like:
Tara, a 40 year old finance expert, recently promoted to a senior management position as CFO in a male dominated environment. She was hired for a multitude of reasons: Her vast financial expertise and successful track record, her experience in non corporate and startup environments as well as her empathetic servant leadership style. She was hired as she possessed skills and experience lacking in the senior management and they hoped to benefit and learn from this. However, once hired, they struggled with the difference in her mindset and approach. She often spent meetings struggling to have her voice heard and was constantly presented with brick walls telling her that is not how things are done here. Their intention in hiring her was good and well thought out, but once faced with these differences, they found that they struggled with the change and held on tightly to how things were always done. It felt safe and less risky. Some even admitted to struggling with her different ideas as it threatened some of their deeply held beliefs and values.
To truly nurture the benefits of diversity, organizations can consider the following regarding the culture they model:
Ensure that the organization understands, communicates and shows that a diverse workforce brings different approaches to work and that these are to be learned from, not “fixed” to fit the existing norm
The organizational culture encourages openness. For diversity to thrive, we need psychologically safe environments. When individuals and teams feel safe, respected and valued we move from self protective mode to a modus of openness. How we react to differences makes a big difference. If we display genuine curiosity, interest and openness, it creates an environment where people who are different are not afraid to share thoughts and ideas. If we shut others down, are overly critical and insist on making them see things from our perspective only, we discourage them from speaking up
An environment or culture that focuses on the uniqueness and strengths of each individual also creates the foundation for diversity to thrive
There is a risk that diversity, like company culture, may just become a great company branding initiative, where companies can display incredible hiring and promotion statistics that look great outwardly but that the real benefits of having a diverse team may never be realized.
To ensure you do reap the benefits, ensure that a key part of your diversity strategy includes establishing an environment that will allow for these differences to thrive.