Diversity is not about your skin colour, heritage or age. It is about the ability to embrace differences and accept ideas, people and things that don’t fit into your traditional way of thinking or behaving. Maximising opportunities to enable diversity requires an open-minded approach to things. It can be acquired as any other skill as I discuss in an article on how to be a more open-minded leader.
Benefits of Diversity
The benefits of a diverse workplace include an increased ability to solve problems, innovate, meet customer requirements and collaborate effectively. For innovation and creativity thus to thrive in an organization, diversity is a useful tool.
Much like a tree requires new shoots to grow in order to stay alive, so too an organization needs new thinkers who challenge the status quo.
New brooms sweep clean for the simple reason that they are not yet indoctrinated into the existing culture. A new team member sees things in a fresh way. A diverse and open-minded workforce takes this new-broom phenomenon one step further. An open-minded workforce introduces new thought patterns, tools, and skills to the workforce.
Diversity enables teams to see a problem from more unique perspectives, allowing a more complete, comprehensive, effective and creative solution to any problem.
How to Enable Diversity
Yet, diversity in practice seems hard to achieve. So how do you enable diversity in the workplace?
How to enable diversity in the workplace
- Appoint a diverse leader
Regardless of the written down rules and policies, ultimately, people in an organization model the behaviours of their leader. People don’t do what you say, they do as the leader does. If you want a diverse organization it is thus critical to choose an open-minded leader who welcomes diversity.
Diversity can be expressed in various ways and might not be so easy to spot. Look for people who love travelling as travel is the most guaranteed way to cultivate a more open mind. A diverse career history with international experience, different roles and working in different industries can also indicate a more open-minded candidate. Interesting hobbies not related to work and an interest in learning is also a sure sign of an open-minded person.
The more diverse the career history, the more diverse the mindset. For any change to be sustainable the leader needs to a role model for the desired behaviour. The leader needs to have an open mind.
- Scrap the hierarchy
Changing leadership roles is not something that is done overnight in most cases, which can make it hard to implement. An alternative is to scrap the hierarchy by creating a workplace where roles are merely a representation of what value you bring to the organization, not the relative importance compared to other people in the organization.
Remove all generic job titles or any job title that includes “manager” or “leader”. Allow each person to compile a unique job title that best describes their unique domain of knowledge and expertise based on their unique core skills.
For example, the title of “Project Manager” might become “Customer Experience Coordinator” for someone who excels at ensuring that the customer needs are continuously met, the “Human Resources Manager” might become “Employee Experience Coordinator”. A “developer” might become an “Algorithm Artist” or “Front-End Fanatic”
Placing emphasis on each person’s unique skills and contributions within the team rather than a generic role based on a clear hierarchy will allow the organization to create a culture of diversity where each person is seen as a unique and valuable resource that contributes to the whole.
- Name the elephant in the room
Without the willingness for two opposing roles or people to admit that it is uncomfortable or frustrating to work together, diversity cannot fully be embraced. It is necessary for people to sit down and have a conversation where they are able to voice their frustrations with each other in a safe environment.
Invite diverse people to sit together and as facilitator ask them “Why is it so hard for you to trust each other and work together?” Allow each person to voice their frustrations without blame and seek for understanding and acceptance. 100% understanding is made up of 50% listening and 50% speaking.
- Empower diversity
Once the difficult conversation has taken place where frustrations and needs were expressed, allow each person to invite guest speakers and mentors who have the skills they need to develop.
Make it acceptable for people to have individual needs and give them the power to find the resources they know they need. In most organizations, the team leader or Human Resources are the custodians of personal development and training needs and the team members have to accept the courses and events these people chose. Although it might be good choices, the person knows better than anyone else what they need in order to develop.
Allow them to find and use these resources and create an environment where personal growth is valued and celebrated.
- Search for similarities
Regardless of your skin colour, age, native language or country of residence, we have more in common than what we have differences. We all have a need for acceptance, a need for self-expression and a need for feeling safe. Find ways for diverse team members to find the similarities between them. For example, let each team member present a workshop on a topic they are passionate about outside of work. This uncovers the human side of the person behind the job title they fulfil during the day, making it easier to connect with each other.
One person, being deaf, might present a sign-language course. Another might share their photo’s of a recent holiday to an interesting destination. Another might give a cooking class over lunch. Yet another might present a yoga class or take the team to a walking meeting.
The most successful companies enable diversity
The most successful companies embrace and increase diversity in the workplace. A diverse workplace is an accepting workplace. It is a workplace where people naturally work well together. It is a workplace able to address more aspects of a problem than one without much diversity in their teams.
To create a more diverse workplace it is not necessary to look for different skin colours or races. Rather, look for people who are open-minded and dedicated to personal growth. Allow people to identify and embrace their differences and help them find the similarities between them. Finally, empower them to be the owner of their personal development.
With 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.