Diversity in the workplace is a good thing. As the Financial Times reports, a study from The Center for Talent Innovation concludes that business performance improves up to 80% among companies with higher diversity levels.
It’s amazing to think that there can be so much confusion and controversy over such a seemingly simple statement. The problem begins to appear when we start to define diversity. What do we mean by it, how can we measure it, and how does it benefit the bottom line?
What is true diversity?
A quick poll of Saberr’s shared office space reveals that the word “diversity” tends to be associated with race, religion, and gender. That’s understandable when UK legislation covers this as a legal minimum standard, but we think diversity goes further than this.
As Suzanne Lucas at thebalance.com suggests, diversity isn’t only about what’s covered in legislation as “a veritable rainbow of skin tones, but if you all went to the same university, it’s likely that you’re more alike than different.” A team with a similar background might collaborate well and produce good work. However, it’s likely that they’re missing what could make good work into great work.
American social scientist Scott Page has spoken extensively on the power of diversity. In his book The Difference, he indicates that cognitive diversity – or ‘diversity of thought’ – is one of the key drivers of high performance among teams. This equates to the different ways people think, rather than the different ways they look.
This is where teams have the opportunity to really flourish. According to Belbin, a team needs nine different behaviors to be successful, including someone who challenges ideas of the rest of the team and “weighs up the team’s options in a dispassionate way”.
This is where diversity of thought comes in.
Hiring for cultural fit AND a diverse workforce!
So how do you hire a diverse workforce with a good cultural match when the dictionary definition of diversity is “difference [and] unlikeness”? Add to that: cultural fit interviews come with the risk of creating a clique-based environment that makes it progressively harder to bring different perspectives into the workforce?
Humans are biased decision makers. One well-known and troubling example of this is the tendency for interviewers to hire candidates who remind them of themselves, so we need to look to technology to help us out.
While much of today’s media suggests that algorithms blindly reinforce pre-existing biases within organizations, contemporary studies suggest the opposite. Algorithms have the key hiring benefit of being peer reviewed: if there is a hidden bias in an algorithm, one has the benefit of being able to break apart the process and scientifically analyze what is happening.
We can’t do this if the hiring process is based on the gut feel of individuals. Algorithms may be biased, but unlike human bias, we can apply scrutiny and change the internal logic of the system to increase fairness.
By paying closer attention to matching the right people together, businesses can begin to raise their baseline of trust among colleagues. By focusing on increasing diversity of thought within teams, businesses will be tackling the root of the performance problem, and enhanced demographic diversity will follow.