“No company can afford to unnecessarily restrict its ability to attract and retain the very best employees available.”
—Rob McInnes, Diversity World
Then presidential candidate Mitt Romney created an instant Internet meme* when he dropped the phrase “binders full of women” during a debate. But, despite the subsequent laughter, criticism, and scrutiny—astute hiring managers got the point. You want to attract talent to your workplace. It’s a competitive advantage. And if you’re missing a group, a demographic, or even a personality type, you just may be missing out on building a stronger workforce. You may be inhibiting your organizational growth, or, yes, your personal growth.
Promoting diversity in the workplace has been part of business planning for years; many of the largest companies now employ a version of a CDO, the chief diversity officer. “Recruiting the best talent with the highest competence is more important than ever . . . ” says Farboud Rezania, a researcher at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, himself with Iranian roots. "Those who manage to get new and old values and cultures to fit under the same roof are the ones who will win.”
The term workplace or workforce diversity at one time meant race. A bias that leads to uniformity has long been acknowledged by corporate leaders as compromising a competitive aspect of their business. But it is more than race. According to Dr. Santiago Rodriguez, director of diversity for Microsoft, true diversity is exemplified by companies that “hire people who are different—knowing and valuing that they will change the way you do business.”
In “Workplace Diversity: The Competitive Advantage” it is noted that, “General Motors recognizes the importance of having employees who reflect both the marketplace and customers and is committed “to creating and nurturing an environment that supports diversity, in order to attract the best and the brightest.”
If not just ethnicity or race, what is diversity? Some human resources managers begin with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test (or MBTI) to identify how we differ from each other by personality type—how we take in information and form judgements. Those responsible for creating high-performing teams use MBTI to understand how our learning and communication styles may hamper or promote teamwork. According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, “When you understand your type preferences, you can approach your own work in a manner that best suits your style, including how you manage your time, problem solving, best approaches to decision making, and dealing with stress. Knowledge of type can help you deal with the culture of the place you work, the development of new skills, understanding your participation on teams, and coping with change in the workplace.”
David Olgilvy, the English-born and Scottish-educated father of American advertising wrote, “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
It’s a personal challenge. We might think that remaining within our comfort zone leads us to a team that works well together. True, or myopic? Is comfort synonymous with performance, or does it serve as a buffer against a different type of challenge, an alternate viewpoint or way of doing things?
What is it like to be surrounded by a supportive environment, day and night? Isn’t that what it’s like to be the president? Yet, there’s a downside, what’s popularly referred to as “the bubble,” or more academically, “group think.” Without respecting the benefits of diversity, we may work in self-constructed bubbles. And how to break out?
It has been reported that, in the back of each evening’s briefing book prepared by the staff for President Obama, is a purple folder that he often flips to first. “MEMORANDUM TO THE PRESIDENT,” reads a sheet clipped to the folder. “Per your request, we have attached 10 pieces of unvetted correspondence addressed to you.”
This is one small way to look outside. In our own world, where most of us do not have a staff to prepare our bedside reading material, it’s really not that difficult to find and seek for ourselves. It is a personal decision.
So as we confront our need to create a high-performing team, it may serve us well to pause and think about our own bubble, our own comfort level, and our own style of leadership. Some attributes of diversity to consider include the following:
Appoint yourself director of diversity, and reflect upon the question: How do I differ from others, and others from me? Then, figure out what actions you can make to broaden your horizons and heighten your accomplishments.
*A piece of content or an idea that’s passed from person to person, changing and evolving along the way. (See Know Your Meme, a “website dedicated to documenting Internet phenomena: viral videos, image macros, catchphrases, web celebs and more.”)