di.ver.si.ty: the state of having or being composed of different elements.

Though this has been a buzzword for over two decades, with increasing globalization and a multi-generational work force, diversity today is a strong need that organizations are being called to meet. Research shows that diverse organizations are more profitable, have lower turnover and are considered trustworthy. Who wouldn’t want in on that?

Until now most diversity initiatives were directed towards bringing demographic variety into the workplace, especially in terms of racial/ethnic equality and even gender ratios. As crucial as these areas continue to be, a new aspect – diversity of thought – is becoming pivotal.

A Deloitte report defines ‘diversity of thought’ as the unique blend of identities, cultures, and experiences that inform how each human thinks, interprets, negotiates, and accomplishes a task. There is neurological evidence that most individuals have particular thinking strengths: some are better at math, others at creativity. Leaders can use this to maximize the collective potential of their employees. The implication is that they must let go of the idea that there is ‘one right way’, and focus on creating a learning culture where people feel comfortable contributing ideas, and even disagreeing.

Scott E. Page conducted a study at Michigan Business School, to show that diversity trumps ability. He proved that a group of individuals who are diverse in how they identified and represented themselves, actually outperform the smartest employees of an organization in solving a problem! A diverse team not only introduces new viewpoints, but also triggers more careful information processing that is typically absent in homogenous groups. Thus, diversity of thought prevents group think. According to H.R. Horovitz, this is the key to innovation, and goes beyond social justice. It helps organizations respond to a constantly evolving market.

Such enhanced performance was also explored in a Harvard Business Review article, where the authors found that employees who possess 2-D diversity: inherent (traits you are born with, such as gender and ethnicity) and acquired diversity (traits you gain from experience), out-innovate and out-perform others. Companies having such employees are 45% likelier to report increased market share, and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.

Alison Paul, Vice Chairman at Deloitte, explains that when organizations value, promote, and share diversity of thought, it not only enriches each person’s experience of being part of something collaborative and meaningful, but also creates what customers look for in society, in terms of equality and opportunity. This helps a business fine-tune its services and value proposition, strengthening brand loyalty, as well as employee satisfaction.

With turnover rate crossing a six year high of 55%, and 57% of employees reporting an increased desire to have more diversity at work, considering measures to enhance diversity of thought will have long term benefits for organizations.

To learn how to do exactly that, stay tuned for our next post.

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