The Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

My music tastes haven’t changed much since my early-20s. I like 90s guitar-based stuff and I’ve mostly listened to the same few bands on repeat for the last two decades with only the occasional new act able to attract my listening attention. My ‘Spotify Wrapped’ (their successful marketing tool where users are presented – and encouraged to share – with their most played songs, acts and genres of the year) is not particularly diverse and has consistently featured Embrace, Oasis, James and Starsailor.

Last month, my teenage daughter and I embarked on a 500-mile round trip to watch her new favourite band who had made Manchester their most northerly gig on their first ever UK tour. Until January, I had never heard of the band (they’re called Greta Van Fleet, check them out!) and I listened to the support act (Marcus King) for the first time the day before we drove down.

Thanks to my daughter’s influence, and my subsequent enjoyment of the gig, over the last few weeks I’ve almost exclusively listened to (yes, you’ve guessed it!), Greta Van Fleet and Marcus King. Something that I wouldn’t have done had she not introduced me to them.   

In today’s ever-changing global environment, it is becoming more important for companies to actively seek hiring and retaining a diverse group of employees. Businesses with diverse employees are more profitable and effective because they are able to better adapt to the changing needs of a diverse client base.

Imagine that you are an Engineering Manager, recruiting a Senior Mechanical Design Engineer. You have gone through the recruitment process and whittled the candidates down to the last two. Both candidates are equal in qualifications and experience. One shares your view on the product development plan while the other has voiced some concerns about the materials you’re using, and the manufacturing process involved. Who do you hire?

‘Homophily’ is the name of the subconscious habit of surrounding yourself with people who we identify with. They think like us and behave like us.

Matthew Syed explored this in his book ‘Rebel Ideas – The Power of Diverse Thinking’. He said, “The problem with homophily is that it creates collective blindness. Even if a team is made up of highly intelligent individuals, if they all think in similar ways, they won’t be aware of what they’re not seeing. These blind-spots often aren’t the result of failure on any one individual’s part. They can arise from incidental factors we can’t control, like the culture we grew up in or who our university professors were.”

While gender, race, religion and sexual orientation are often what we consider when we talk about diversity, ‘cognitive diversity’ is crucial to the success of a business. If you have two engineers, one male & one female, who have both studied at the same university under the same professor, they are likely to have similar thoughts on how to solve a problem.  

In a study by Deloitte back in 2013, the authors found that Cognitive Diversity can benefit organisations in the following ways:

  • It helps guard against groupthink and expert overconfidence.
  • It helps increase the scale of new insights.
  • It helps organisations identify the right employees who can best tackle their most pressing problems.

Have you ever been in a meeting where you disagree with what your boss has said but are too afraid to say anything or you have had an idea about the project that you are working on but have kept quiet because you’ve seen your manager rudely dismiss your colleagues’ ideas previously?

There is no point in having a cognitively diverse team if it’s only the voice of the leader that is being heard.

The key to cognitive diversity, then, is being able to utilise its positive effects.

Leaders must be able to develop environments where contrary opinions can be shared confidently. Individuals within your business, regardless of seniority, should be open-minded and curious and willing to embrace alternative ideas and viewpoints. Not every idea will be brilliant, but it may be the seed used to form a plan that could change your company.