Until recently, it would not have been uncommon to see C-suite leaders react to diversity like a bull to a red rag. However, it is becoming increasingly irrefutable that leaders who ignore diversity and inclusion in the workplace do so at their peril!
The business case for diversity is strong. Organisations who lead in gender and ethnic diversity on executive teams and boards regularly outperform their less diverse competitors.1 Yet, too often organisations off-load the responsibility for diversity to HR departments. They invest in inclusive hiring strategies but fail to treat diversity as a leadership priority.
Inclusive recruitment is an essential first step to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces.2 But a diverse-looking team photo does, in and of itself, not make for more innovative, agile or financially successful performance. At Amicus, we are challenging organisations to think about diversity beyond their recruitment processes.
Diversity is not a silver bullet.
Many businesses consider recruiting a diverse pool of potential employees a success, but this is short-sighted. Team diversity, whether in terms of personalities, professional experience, or demographic attributes like gender, ethnicity or age, does not invariably translate into superior performance. Leaders who are committed to successfully unleashing the potential of diverse teams should be asking: What leverages diversity, and under what circumstances might diversity hamper performance?3
Great teams are built on trust and a shared purpose. However, diversity, when managed badly, can undermine both, threatening trust and potentially raising identity-based faultlines within groups.4 We all have a tendency to form identity-based relationship clusters, or silos; even when, and maybe especially if, our social environment would present us with many opportunities to step outside of our cultural comfort zones.5 Such “homophily” can seriously undermine decision-making processes and creative problem-solving within a team. Relationships that span professional, generational, and demographic boundaries enrich decision-making processes because they facilitate access to more novel information and allow us to bring a wider range of perspectives to the table.6 Depriving ourselves of this diversity of perspectives by hunkering down in homogeneous silos weakens not only individual success7 but also diminishes overall team-performance.8
If your culture is strong, there’s power in diversity.
When diversity is made a top priority for leadership, not just a recruitment challenge, it holds great potential for individual teams and entire organisations.
Diverse organisations create more opportunities for relationships between people of different backgrounds. Where diversity is acknowledged and celebrated and employees are able to take up the opportunity to develop a diverse network, such relationships can generate more, not less, trust.9 Furthermore, exposure to less familiar viewpoints has been shown to encourage employees to ‘break set’ and approach complex problems in more innovative, less rehearsed, and often more productive ways.10 Trust and an agile problem-solving style are powerful determinants of success, and diversity can help foster both.
Leaders should focus on creating an organisational culture that counteracts our human tendency to re-segregate into homogenous silos, even within diverse settings. Encouraging supportive peer-to-peer relationships has been shown to go some way towards reducing homophily.11 Successful teams will access the wide-reaching network of information and expertise that their diverse team members can contribute and leverage the creativity-enhancing potential of diversity. But at the same time, leaders of successfully diverse teams will make sure to cultivate strong internal communication and collaboration habits to counteract the divisive potential of diversity.12
When organisations create the right context for diverse teams to flourish and take diversity strategies beyond recruitment they are set to outperform their less diverse competitors.