I have experienced firsthand the value of a highly diverse team as I’ve been fortunate enough to lead one. Mine stretches across three continents and brings together a mix of cultures, genders and personalities. Teams like mine are starting to become the rule, rather than the exception, and give us the opportunity to really embrace the advantages of diversity to reinforce the talent pool.
When I graduated from university (back in the early 1980s!), there were hardly any women in the manufacturing and technology sectors. Now, we see women at all levels of management in these sectors, (though their numbers are still disproportionately low). Global corporate movements like HeforShe strive to raise the profile of this topic and keep it squarely on company agendas.
Really, diversity should be a given but why is it actually better for business? That’s an easy question, actually. Firstly, it helps us to avoid the “group think” trap. Get a group of people together who are roughly the same age, same gender, same nationality, same life experiences, and they will likely also share the same mindsets. The dearth of perspectives can severely limit the way in which situations/problems/challenges are approached. Diversity in a team provides a richer opportunity for varying points of view, new ideas, the capacity to embrace disruptive technologies, and even a greater willingness to step out of the collective comfort zone.
In my capacity as a leader, I have endeavoured to take full advantage of the diversity of my team and engage with them as a vital sounding board for ideas. I rely on them to offer up alternative thinking, play devil’s advocate, and challenge me. I don’t have all the answers. I like to hear, “OK, great – but have you thought about this….?”
Our customers face many of the same challenges in this department as we do. First, it is common to hire in our own image, from a pool of people with whom we share experiences and who we can relate to. It’s easier and often requires the least amount of effort, but when faced with a problem to solve, the best outcome will result by approaching it from multiple angles, not just our own. Think of it this way, in almost any industry, hiring from a competitor or from a customer is often a brilliant way of getting new insight into the business – sometimes, it’s not the rosy picture you may want to hear but it’s incredibly valuable. We can get similar value by hiring from a diverse pool of talent who may not have entrenched, preconceived views of the business but who bring fresh approaches and new skill sets to the team.
I believe that the key to developing a diverse and successful team is to make it a priority – an active and conscious effort. If not, it’s all too easy to slip into old hiring habits. It can also help to take a step back and consider the makeup and diversity of your customer base. Aligning the diversity of your talent pool with that of your customers’ can help to establish stronger relationships and, consequently, better business outcomes.
Mentoring programs are another effective way to build a pipeline for a strong and diverse workforce. Whether they focus on helping women advance in professions where they have been traditionally underrepresented (i.e. engineering etc) or to attract talent in emerging economies, mentoring programs can help companies tap into rich and often overlooked segments of the workforce.
In conclusion, new energy and new ways of thinking need to be constantly supported to reinforce the talent pool – so we can tap into the enthusiasm and idea generation a diverse team can offer and avoid getting stuck in the old mentality of “this is how things are done around here”.