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Posted by on Feb 26, 2016

Want a Smarter Workplace? Focus on Diversity

Want a Smarter Workplace? Focus on Diversity

DiversityDiversity efforts are often perceived as solely focusing on compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws or enforcing political correctness. Yet in reality, there are scientific and business reasons for leaders to take action to create more diverse and inclusive working environments. For today’s organizations, diversity and inclusion are crucial for organizational success, creativity, innovation, and talent maximization.

This is Your Brain on Diversity

Creating diverse environments is not only important for building stronger communities and organizations, it also impacts the way our brains function. Studies comparing groups with ethnic, gender, and sexual-orientation diversity to more homogeneous groups time and again find that the diverse groups are more innovative and creative, and demonstrate better decision making and problem solving than less diverse groups.

Differences Prevent Groupthink and Expert Overconfidencediversity graphic

Homogeneous groups with similar experiences and ways of problem solving will tend to agree with one another more readily, and may fall prey to “groupthink,” a phenomenon where individuals consciously or unconsciously feel inclined toward consensus rather than challenging the status quo. Groupthink occurs when individuals develop an inaccurate sense of surety in their ideas, or refrain from dissenting due to concerns about their reputations within the homogeneous group.

Diverse groups are less bound by this “expert overconfidence” complex or pressure to maintain a sense of sameness. In fact, the mere presence of divergent experiences, viewpoints, and approaches to problem solving within a diverse group provokes more active thinking. To put it plainly, working in diverse groups puts people’s brains on alert and engages them in more neural activity.

Stir Up Some Dissonance

Word of caution: it’s not enough to just get a bunch of different people in a room together. Successful and innovative organizations foster environments in which every individual feels valued and able to fully contribute. Organizational leaders who build inclusive environments don’t focus merely on building “kumbaya” cultures, either. In his book, Originals, Dr. Adam Grant advises organizational leaders seeking to build more innovative and successful organizational cultures to:

  • Hire for cultural contribution rather than cultural “fit” by looking for diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and personality traits rather than hiring those who think in similar ways.
  • Unearth the devil’s advocates who will offer well-reasoned dissenting opinions and challenge the status quo.
  • Invite and listen to criticism from all corners of the organization rather than only inviting the opinions of individuals who typically share their ways of thinking.

At first glance, homogeneity looks easier. Diversity brings challenges. Decision-making is messier and takes more time. Individuals have to let go of their traditional views and ways of thinking. Teams have to stretch themselves outside their comfort zones in terms of their beliefs. However, leaders who commit to building strong foundations of diversity and inclusion, who invite divergent ways of thinking while fostering cohesive and caring teams, will be rewarded with high functioning, innovative, and engaged organizations.

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