Article

Diversity Insight: What Matters Is Not How Employees Look, But How They Think

diverse employees standing holding up paper conversation bubbles of different shapes and sizes
Jennifer Stangl Photo
Director of Professional Development
CUES

3 minutes

Appreciating differences in approach as well as identity creates a better workplace and leverages varied perspectives.

“Alexa, what is diversity?”

The state of being diverse; variety; a range of different things.

“Alexa, what does it mean to have diversity?”

Understanding that everyone is unique and recognize individual differences.

Most of us get these definitions. We understand what diversity is, what it means to have diversity within our workforce and why it is important. So why are we still not moving the needle with our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives?

To understand this, let’s go back to what it means to “have diversity.” It is not just about understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing differences, but about what differences we recognize. To help us think about this, let’s look at two types of diversity:

  1. Identity diversity. This includes the things we can see—such demographics as race, gender and age.
  2. Cognitive diversity. This is also known as diversity of thought—the perspectives we’ve developed through our varied life, educational and work experiences, along with our personality.

Reflecting on these two types of diversity, which do your current diversity initiatives favor?

Diversity Initiative Identity Diversity Cognitive Diversity
% of resumes received from people of diverse backgrounds                X  
Implementing hiring practices that look outside traditional backgrounds or personality characteristics                  X
Diversity included in organizational values                X  
Employ a standard of creating cross-functional project teams                  X
Develop a culture of idea-sharing and support at all levels                  X

Most approaches to diversity focus on identifying diversity. This includes an emphasis on raising awareness, by offering a training or including diversity as an organizational value. Some organizations may try to demonstrate diversity results through measurement of their identity diversity, sometimes referred to as a “diversity quota.”

The investments in diversity of organizations with a strong focus on identity diversity have not had the desired impact on increasing diversity. For example, take the efforts to increase the number of women in leadership positions. We’ve read the statistics on why having women in leadership roles is important and beneficial to organizations. However, according to the 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, women represent 47%of the workforce, but only 22% of senior-level executive roles. Organizations have worked hard to implement plans to support diversity goals through the development of hiring practices, and the creation of peer groups, mentoring programs or training. But we must take this a step further and place attention not just on leveling out the numbers with identity diversity, but by mixing up the ranks of our leadership and staff through cognitive diversity too.  

When it comes down to it, we are lacking attention on both identity and cognitive diversity.  An organization employing initiatives for both creates a safe, discrimination-free workplace and leverages diverse thinking. In simple terms, such organizations let identity diversity stimulate cognitive diversity. Individuals in these environments feel safe and comfortable using their experiences and natural tendencies to identify and share an approach that others may not see.

To translate your diversity intentions into progress:

  • Recognize that diversity is not a problem to be managed. Diversity initiatives should not be a consequence or threat to current practices and structures. Rather diversity should be viewed as an opportunity to learn from and share with each other, then to function as one organization as a result of our differences.
  • Set realistic diversity and inclusion goals. There should be a business case for your goals. Leaders should be able to speak to these goals, connecting them to the work being done within the team and the overall goals of the organization.
  • Empower individuals. Regardless of roles, individuals should be able to address barriers and offer solutions. Leadership support through role modeling behaviors is key.
  • Offer idea-time. Many leaders may say they want ideas from staff, but actions speak louder than words. Staff can be coached to direct their creativity in alignment with organizational initiatives and goals.    

The resources and effort put into diversity initiatives should have a stronger output. To grow, organizations need to ensure they aren’t just creating awareness, but engaging in behaviors that support diversity and inclusion. We need individuals within the organization to seek out and leverage different perspectives. We need to move away from the familiar and open our minds to different backgrounds and experiences.
 
Jennifer Stangl is director of professional development at CUES.

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