Diversity needs to go beyond gender and ethnicity

December 8, 2015 | SmartBlog

By Smooch Repovich Reynolds

In modern industry, one of the most sought-after qualities in a business is diversity. It’s a concept that impacts everything from a company’s efficiency to its overall attractiveness to potential employees, clients and partners.

Typically, diversity is associated with a person’s physical attributes — particularly his or her gender and ethnicity — but I believe it should stretch much further than that. True diversity extends across entire organizations, from top executives to entry-level employees. It’s embodied by varied career experiences, educational backgrounds, ages, cultures, religious beliefs, and sexualities.

When a company fully embraces this definition of “diversity,” it becomes an institution that reaps the benefits of an ensuing diversity of thought.

Defining diversity of thought

Diversity of thought is the direct result of having a collection of individuals who are open-minded, are inclusive and possess intellectual curiosity. The perks of this culture are external and internal.

Externally, company team members work in harmony to comprehend people who are unlike themselves, tweaking processes and messages so they appeal to a broad array of individuals. Internally, team members collectively realize the importance of different experiences and viewpoints, and they strive to understand how each of their co-workers thinks, processes information and generates innovative ideas.

This is particularly beneficial because companywide open-mindedness encourages bold solutions that would otherwise be ignored or never even thought of. In fact, a 2011 study found that a group of diverse problem-solvers will likely outperform a group of high-talent problem solvers due to its increased number of differing perspectives.

However, like any business advancement or development, diversity of thought needs to be tactfully applied across a company.

How to employ diversity of thought

Autodesk, a software company, goes to great lengths to promote the diversification of ideas. Specifically, the company creates a yearly affirmative action plan that compares external data with internal statistics to gauge how well the diversity of the company’s ideas matches the diversity of the clients it serves.

In essence, there’s one key driver to promoting diversity of thought: raising awareness by asking for input. Get representatives from across the company on the same page when it comes to defining true diversity and recognizing its importance.

Start by selecting a handful of employees, identifying them as “learning partners” of inclusivity, and picking their brains on the topic. Also, be sure to speak with HR and ask how it’s currently approaching diversity. What do HR team members think they’re doing well, and what do they think can be improved upon?

Additionally, seek books and thought leadership articles from global consulting firms to discover additional methods of implementing diversity of thought — and to keep up with evolving business trends in the arena.

Inspiring diversity of thought is an aspirational goal that’s unfolding every day across the globe. Someday, it will be intuitive and second nature, but in the meantime, leaders must make a conscious effort to fuel this type of thinking and creativity across their entire companies.

Those at the top need to lead by example and display that they’ve adopted an intellectual openness to different cultures and backgrounds. Then, they must encourage all colleagues at all levels of the organization to be participatory without recrimination.

Just remember: No one business leader can do it alone. Diversification of thought requires many people with differing backgrounds and viewpoints working together to solve a common problem.

A dynamic lecturer, keynote speaker, media expert on employment issues, and frequent contributor to global professional journals and newsletters, Smooch Repovich Reynolds is managing partner of the Global Investor Relations and Communications Practice Group at DHR International, a global executive search firm.

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