Surface-level diversity in a company is not enough

More and more companies keep diversity and inclusion on their agenda, and it is indeed an important topic and initiative to embrace and develop. Do we understand the importance of diversity and what is behind it – is there actually more than meets the eye and how can companies benefit from in-depth diversity? Our Head of People and Culture Dijana Soininen delves deeper into the intricacies of this interesting topic.

Diversity isn’t just about what you can see

Diversity isn’t just about what you can see. Everyone has something that makes them different, In the recent years, diversity and inclusion have been a focus area in many companies. This is is very important, a great initiative and crucial to continue on this path. At the same time, it is important that we do not lose sight of differences between looking diverse and understanding deep-level diversity and what actually stands behind it.

If we only view diversity on a superficial level, such as gender, age, qualities we are born with, there is a risk of missing the full benefits of diversity. We spend time on counting the ratio between age structure, gender ratio or how many nationalities we have in the team, in other words, the focus goes on making company look diverse. Leaders must understand to dig deeper into the diversity and understand the connection to cognitive diversity, which is a true asset to companies and its people.

DiversityBy cognitive diversity, I refer to qualities we have cultivated through different experiences. For example, what kind of an impact a different cultural background, education or working abroad, has on individual thinking, in problem solving, or how an individual engages in new, uncertain and complex situations? Furthermore, leaders need to understand the business need in this context and how cognitive diversity can serve their customers and the company when solving different challenges and seeking innovation.

How to harness diversity?

Cognitive diversity is not easy to achieve, it’s not easy to lead, nor it’s easy to operate in. However, it offers endless opportunities. To harness the full benefit of cognitive diversity, companies need to pay attention to three important elements.

Hiring for cognitive diversity: Research shows that people have a natural tendency to gravitate towards like-minded people, those who think and act like themselves. This is just how our brains are wired. As a result, organizations often end up with like-minded teams. When this happens, we have low cognitive diversity in the organisation, creating work culture that encourages homogeneous thinking. Such a team has limited ability to see things differently, engage in different ways or create new solutions. To overcome this challenge, a company needs to hire for cognitive diversity, hire for culture-add, rather than culture-fit. The recruitment process needs to identify differences and remove bias from the interview and selection process.  

Building psychological safety: Leading a diverse team is not always straightforward, either. Research shows that when deep-level diversity is cultivated, retention and productivity rise. Employees are happier, healthier, and more creative when they feel respected, valued, and included. Leaders benefit from working with better ideas, broader perspectives, and better solutions. However, leading a diverse team takes time and has its challenges when there are people with different backgrounds, temperaments, experience levels and ideas ultimately working for a same goal. When people are naturally drawn to work with like-minded people, culture clashes, misunderstandings, and subconscious exclusion in ways of working are not unusual.

If cognitive diversity is what we need to succeed in our business, leaders need to encourage people to reveal and deploy their different modes of thinking. They need to make it safe to try things in different ways. This means leaders must become good at building psychological safety for their teams, where different thinking is being encouraged and people can be themselves.

Respecting and appreciating differences: Working in a diverse team requires a mindset which embraces and appreciates differences. It requires patience, ability to challenge your own thinking, listen to different perspectives and adapt to or build on the thinking of others. In the most innovative and creative organizations, people know how to create space for those differences and leverage them in a creative way.

All this sounds very exciting, but at the same time, this is actually easier said than done. Imagine a group of people all coming in with their own ideas, backgrounds, personalities, temperaments, habits and challenging your own thinking as opposed to being in the room with like-minded people who just share the same thinking with you. Having an open mind, genuine respect and interest towards other people and their thoughts is needed in finding your own place in diverse teams and harnessing the benefits of being part of a diverse team.

Potential of cognitive diversity

The possibilities of cognitive diversity are endless. To cultivate diverse and inclusive culture, collective effort is needed from everyone, Once the team learns how to unlock the benefits of cognitive diversity, it will experience how diversity works for their benefit and for the benefit of their customers and, in fact, for everyone around them. It is an intersection where innovation happens, collective achievements are celebrated, learning from each other takes place and great working cultures gets established.

- By Dijana Soininen, Head of People and Culture at Spinverse

More information: Read here what we wrote about Spinverse company culture.