And we’re back!
So this week I’m introducing a different type of post, the Special Topic. Every three or four posts, I’m planning on writing about a different topic other than graphic design to mix things up a bit. It’s more of an essay format, but I can only hope that you guys don’t mind. Otherwise, I hope you find it a good read. It’s about diversity in the workplace, something that I encountered rather recently that inspired me to write this piece.
Imagine an average person working at a big and successful company. One day, everyone in the person’s department is called for an all-hands meeting. At the meeting, upper level management announces a new diversity initiative, promising to increase workplace diversity by 20% or some number. Eventually, the person starts to see changes at the office. Someone from Japan joins the team. A manager is replaced by an African-American employee. A person of Persian descent is brought on as a new hire. Soon, the entire workplace is full of new faces.
Is this workplace diversity? Not quite.
Unfortunately, for many companies attempting to diversify their workforce, this is their only answer to the problem. While it is certainly not wrong to hire people of different backgrounds, it is definitely not the answer to a situation that plagues businesses across the world. Physical diversity alone is not enough.
The world today moves fast and changes constantly. To stay competitive, companies do not just need diversity of background, but diversity of thought. They do not need employees who are of different races but are from the same schools, the same fields of study, and the same socioeconomic class. They need employees who bring a unique blend of cultures, identities, and experiences to the table. These people solve problems differently and have different perspectives that produce different solutions. Not only that, but companies need to realize the potential of these people by employing them to solve real problems rather than just having them punch numbers in a cubicle to fill a physical diversity quota.
Diversity of thought is a powerful tool in the hands of a capable organization. It has the potential to introduce innovation in spaces that have remained unchanged for years. It helps guard against groupthink and overconfidence in problem solving. It can magnify the scale of new insights and solutions for the organization. It allows businesses to adapt quickly to fluctuating circumstances and markets. Organizations that have diversity of thought in the workplace can take advantage of this cloud of ideas to spark new innovation and creativity.
The results of having a diverse workforce are clear. Teams that are more homogenous typically exert greater confidence in their solutions to given tasks. However, teams that are more heterogeneous are often more successful in task completion. Much of this difference is due to the fact that diverse teams process information more carefully; they discuss the problem longer, they think of more alternatives, and they see the problem from multiple perspectives.
A common argument against hiring for diversity is that companies need to select the candidates who are best qualified, which may or may not be as diverse as it should be. But consider this: a study conducted by scientists in the University of Washington tested the crowdsourced knowledge of the university community against a team of industry experts in a competition to design and remodel amino acid loops in a human protein enzyme. The result: the top five designs came from students who didn’t necessarily have a solid background in biology or chemistry but had good collaboration, reasoning skills, and intuition. In the end, diversity of thought allowed them to achieve their goals.
It is time for organizations to step up to the plate of hiring with diversity in mind. Companies can no longer simply rely on the status quo of hiring a “diverse workforce” from the same top universities with the same resumes who give the same answers to new problems. Companies that guarantee their future success are the ones that bring in people who give distinct, contrasting answers to their problems.
These people contribute more than just words. They give perspective.
Thanks for reading, guys. See you all next week!