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Practitioner CEO with Cindy Gallagher: Diversity
Ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sex. Important words, typical words associated with diversity. Unfortunately, these words aren’t enough and often lead to divisiveness at varying levels within an organization. They lead to an arbitrary focus on quotas and compliance rather than focusing on opportunities for growth and scale.
These words alone don’t adequately describe how diversity impacts an organization or why diversity is necessary. We’ve been drilled with the fundamentals – diversity produces more creative solutions to complex problems, diversity creates a greater sense of belonging for a greater number of employees, and in turn diversity leads to greater financial returns. But little energy is spent discussing why diversity leads to such great returns and how to cultivate a culture which embraces diversity.
Innovation through diversity of thought
I find it fascinating that as a society we’re still struggling to execute and embrace a diverse workforce. I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason we struggle, is because we haven’t come to appreciate the true concept of diversity and the ways in which it benefits the bottom line.
Thought, experience, perspective, personality. To me, these words go farther to describe why diversity enables corporate growth opportunities. They are actionable words which can be used in recruiting talent, developing corporate culture, mentorship and innovation.
Organizations that lack diversity of thought, experience, perspective and personality, suffer from a ‘like me’ mentality where the organizations leadership isn’t challenged, isn’t forced to think broadly, nor do they take the time to consider alternative solutions to their business challenges.
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Organizations which fail to embrace diversity of thought, experience, perspective and personality, struggle to understand alternative views held by their customers, to understand the varying types of risks their business faces, or to have an appreciation for why alternative perspectives are important. These organizations often experience high turnover, slow growth and ultimately do not reach their full potential.
Organizations which embrace and implement diversity of thought, experience, perspective and personality, are better positioned to make insightful strategic decisions based on the different perspectives each employee brings to the table as compared to organizations who fall into a ‘like me’ mentality. The root of diversity is to spark debate, leading to better solutions and innovative ideas which position your organization for future success. Organizations which effectively execute on creating a diverse workforce are aligned for long-term growth and success, while those who don’t toil away, never making progress and always wondering why they’re falling behind.
Thoughts on thinking differently
As you (hopefully) seek to embrace diversity and make a concerted effort to integrate diversity into your organization, I offer you these thoughts:
1. Live authentically
Your employees, your customers, your investors and your competition are watching you. Creating a goal which states you value diversity looks good on paper, but if you aren’t authentically living up to that value proposition people will see through it and believe you to be disingenuous. Take the time to speak to your team members about the type of organization you’re creating, about the value of cultivating different viewpoints, let them see you work through an operational challenge with someone who possess a different mindset. Give your team members an opportunity to work for and with leaders who are different from you. Live authentically and take visible actions toward accomplishing your goals.
2. It’s more than a checklist
Don’t create a checklist or governance process based solely on the physical attributes of a person. Create an insightful selection process which must be followed before you begin to identify new talent. An insightful selection process will look different for each team, however the most critical element is to consider the mix of strengths you need to be successful such as:
- Creative thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Introspective thinking
- Entry-level experience
- Years of experience
- Collaborative personalities
Don’t create a checklist simply based on how you preserve a person to look, act or pray. Create a process which will cultivate the mix of strengths needed to move your organization from where it is today, to where you need to be tomorrow. Remember no one person possess all of these strengths.
3. Embrace the power of individuality
Let those around you be their authentic self. It’s through embracing the power of individuality that you will unlock the true potential of your organization and create a sense of belonging for your employees. Through that sense of belonging your employees will be committed to bringing their best self to work every day.
4. Be Purposeful
Actions speak louder than words. If you don’t have diverse backgrounds across your teams, from the top down, the organization won’t care what words you’re using. They will believe that your lack of intention in surrounding yourself with people who look, act, think differently from you represents how you really feel, and the words you’ve used hold no value.
I encourage you to take the time to assess your current team and the needs you have for this team in the future. Have you surrounded yourself with people who constantly agree with you, who never challenge your ideas or positions, who seem to always have the same answers or thought process you would have? Do they all fall into the same category on the physical diversity checklist? When you look around the table at a team meeting, do you see different versions of yourself? Creating a diversity mentality is not a one and done activity. Diversity must be constantly assessed and fed with new, relevant, information.
Ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sex. Words we need to understand the very baseline of what diversity is.
Thought, experience, perspective, personality. Words we need to evolve our thinking about what diversity should be.
Let’s create an equal playing field that integrates physical diversity, with intellectual diversity and finally begin operating as a collective community seeking to reach our true potential. After all, not all diversity is skin deep.