Too many companies are complacent about their current ways of working. They simply don’t pay attention or take the time to explore how diversity could help boost their organization.
Stay inside your comfort zone for too long, though, and you’ll be watching the competition attract and retain a wider variety of talent that creates innovative, agile cultures.
Many companies likely know this but still choose to ignore it. Studies on diversity are making headlines, particularly when it comes to the development of innovative ideas and creative problem-solving. Gender diversity in the boardroom can lead to higher stock prices and inclusive workplaces where more women stay in the company and make it to senior positions. A recent study by Robert Lount and Katherine Phillips even indicates that groups with just one different person make the whole group work harder, doing more homework to understand issues and make sure their views are accurate.
But the “not me” attitude is getting in the way of progress for many organizations. And the longer they wait, the harder it will be to change because they’ll have to adjust not only their own views but also the insular reputation they’ve created.
If your organization is turning a blind eye, there’s always room for change; but I urge those in charge to make changes productively. I’ve seen some companies try to take shortcuts to diversifying only to never really reap the financial or employee engagement rewards.
Here are a few ways to avoid these common mistakes:
Don’t make decisions in like-minded groups and then call yourself “collaborative” when you share these decisions with different sets of stakeholders and ask for their “input” to make everyone feel included. These are actually selling techniques that might yield a few refinements to new ideas, but they rarely yield much impact for many reasons. Employees may even become less willing to go against the tide of ideas from the sanctioned group of idea makers.
Having a culture of inclusion needs to come first and foremost so that diverse ideas are constantly shared throughout the organization on a daily basis, not just when invited. Then less time is wasted on trying to get buy-in.
Your organization could try what I call “leading with collaborative agility”: Appreciating multiple points of view to better understand what is happening on a continuous basis. This inclusion helps predict resistance and potential implications of decisions on the table, and the constant flow of information lays the groundwork to make good decisions more quickly. Companies will be more competitive, and individuals who lead with collaborative agility are more productive.
Don’t expect instant creativity rewards from simply plugging holes with new, different people. The problem I often see is that the different people may not be so different after all because they usually have to meet the fit criteria to be hired. They will fit nicely into the existing culture, but they won’t disturb the status quo too much.
Instead hire those who genuinely have new perspectives to share. These new hires may or may not look different, but they have likely had different life experiences that lead to their different perspectives. It takes a lot of courage and hard work for an organization to acknowledge and leverage employee differences to be able to lead with collaborative agility.
Leading diverse organizations is difficult, but it not only makes good social sense; it also makes perfect economic sense. Companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to see positive results in their bottom line thanks to the increase in innovative ideas and solutions from various lenses. Additional financial gains will come to the organizations that learn to effectively weigh and synthesize the variety of employee visions and, on the flip side, employees will grow more and turn over less.
More companies need to do what it takes to fully embrace diversity. What’s right for people can be right for profit, too.