Re-thinking Diversity

What is diversity? According to the dictionary, diversity is the presence of difference and yet I am often struck  by how diversity is frequently misconceived as solely focusing on the protected characteristics of sex, gender reassignment, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity.

If we are to fully embrace diversity (be it in our workplaces, communities etc) we must appreciate that diversity is so much more than statistics about race and gender.

Diversity and the individual are inextricably linked.

People differ in so many ways.  To truly recruit a diverse workforce surely businesses should also consider, for example, an individual’s traits – Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident), Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved), Openness to Experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious), Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached), Conscientiousness (efficient/organised vs. easy-going/careless)? And then there is attitude and aptitude? Life experiences.   An individual’s capacity for overcoming adversity and or tackling a problem.  What about personality types? (activist, pragmatist, reflector, theorist)?

A truly diverse team (at all levels) in your business will create a wider range of influences and opinions and will push boundaries and consider all possible angles resulting in increased productivity. This is especially important for situations such as operating in a post Covid-19 world where creative problem solving, innovation and collaboration are surely needed to survive and thrive.

Research by McKinsey has shown that teams with greater diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns above the median for their industry and, teams which have diverse work approaches make decisions up to 60% faster. It has also been shown to increase retention; people who feel that their contributions are meaningful and rewarding are far more likely to be happy at work.

If you are fortunate enough to be recruiting consider those individuals who may not have received the A levels results they wanted this year or someone who has faced adversity in their lives – or someone who doesn’t have the necessary qualification or experience (most things can be taught and it is commonly recognised that people obtain 70% of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others and 10% from formal educational events) but goodness me they may have the right attitude; or the person who has recently been made redundant as a result of the UK falling into recession and who has a plethora of knowledge they would happily share.

If you are  moving forward with the same team post furlough identify the diverse characteristics your team or teams have/do not have.  Could you, should you mix team members up to multi skill and to ensure the benefits of diversity within your team (and remember I am talking about more than the protected characteristics of diversity) are spread as far and wide as possible?

When I first started out in the world of work I was quickly identified as a pragmatist (someone who likes to get stuck in and get things done).  I clearly recall metaphorically tearing my hair out in frustration the first time I had to team up with a reflector (someone who likes to pause, ponder, consider thoroughly) to deliver on a project. Fortunately I had a business mentor who helped me to understand, respect and benefit from having the polar opposite on my team.  I am not a fan of any label but accept that sometimes we have to define inorder to categorise to aid understanding and balance.

Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different; it’s about understanding. Getting it right leads to your business, your people and your customers benefiting.

It made me recall a conversation I had with my son when he was a small child at primary school. On a particular day he came home rather grumpy. Being a predominantly happy child his grumpiness would often manifest when he was confused. After identifying the cause of his confusion (he had had both his first science and RE lessons that day both of which covered how the world was made) he asked  “Is one of my teachers telling me lies Mummy?” I remember telling him all those years ago that the world would be a very dull and stale place if everyone was the same.

I can tell you now there is a heck of a lot more to me that I bring to the table beyond being purely White, British, Female, xx years old, Agnostic and Married!