Like with most everything else, not all diversity efforts are created equal.
A wide variety of things can affect the scope and impact of a diversity effort. Budget, priority, executive support, scope, team, owner, and focus are just some of the many factors. But there is one fundamental factor that can make a huge difference in a diversity effort and it is universal and budget independent. The definition of diversity.
How organizations view diversity is as diverse as diversity itself.
There are organizations that center their diversity around diversity of demographics – the demographics protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or an expanded view including other facets of diversity such as socio-economic status, geography, education, etc.
And there are some that center their diversity around diversity of thought – how people approach problems, think through solutions, and how they interpret the world.
Neither of these approaches is wrong unless it is at the expense of the other.
True diversity is both diversity of demographics and diversity of thought.
Why? Let’s take a stroll around the quadrants of diversity to examine the impact of diversity.
Quadrant 1: No Diversity – Low diversity of demographics, low diversity of thought
Imagine a baseball team where everyone is the same. They all have the same skills, abilities, and approach the game in the same way. Even if they have a broad range of strengths and abilities, everyone having the same ones is problematic. For example, the team that is great at everything except fielding a bunt. As soon as the opposing team figures it out, the homogeneous team would lose.
Having a homogeneous team, whether in baseball or in an organization, will create dangerous gaps. Not reacting fast enough to competitive offerings, the inability to resonate with customers, not seeing an issue before it blows up, or not being able to field a bunt in time to get the player out at first base.
Welcome to No Diversity.
Quadrant 2: ‘Skin-deep’ Diversity – High diversity of demographics, low diversity of thought
If you've seen The Wrinkle in Time movie, remember the scene where the children are bouncing balls in unison then mothers come out in unison and call them in. Every one of them looks different – ethnicity/race, gender, age – but they are all doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. It gives a sense of a manufactured veneer of diversity rather than true diversity.
But that doesn’t actually happen, right?
Does this sound familiar?
“My organization wants me to hire someone who is [different demographic here], but without changing anything. I’m to use the same sources, the same requirements, the same preferences for education and experience, the same job description, the same process.”
“Okay, let’s say you find that person… what is the value of the diversity your organization is looking to get beyond the optics of having people who look different?”
“… I don’t know.”
Looking for the same person that fits the same blueprint except for demographics has limited value. They will likely have some different perspectives and experiences, but if cut using the same mold, many of their thoughts and approaches will be as synchronized as the bouncing balls. Therefore, it will lead down similar pitfalls of no diversity.
Welcome to ‘Skin-deep’ Diversity.
Quadrant 3: Cerebral Diversity – Low diversity of demographics, high diversity of thought
Imagine a creative design powerhouse with a team made up of such diversity of thought that they dominate the whole range of soft and hard skills. They have those with such strong analytical strength such that no pattern is missed and those so dominant in emotional intelligence they can master eliciting any emotional response from their audience. They have the inspirational thinkers that can create powerful messages and organizational leaders that ensure every job gets done. Their skills are so diverse, there is no project too complex, no task that can stump them, no ability lacking.
Until they get a project to market a women’s line of makeup, and there isn’t a woman among them.
Teams with incredible diversity of thought but lack demographic diversity are at a disadvantage. The rich depth of emotional and intellectual understanding that come from first-hand experiences can only come with first-hand experiences. If no one on the team is a [demographic here] then there is no intimate knowledge of what the world is like when moving through it as a [demographic here].
Without that intimate knowledge that comes with diversity of demographics, how well can a team market, sell, support, and engage a demographically diverse client base?
Welcome to Cerebral Diversity
Quadrant 4: True Diversity – High diversity of demographics, high diversity of thought
A battle rages within the final frontier – phasers crisscrossing, ships exploding in scientifically inaccurate loud displays of fireworks, the lights blare red around you. Which ship would you rather be on – the one with the biggest torpedoes and a clear knack for firepower, or the one crewed by a diverse creative group that can out-logic, out-maneuver, and out-engineer any other team? The Enterprise always wins. It’s not because they are the strongest, but because they are the most diverse in who they are and what they bring - strength, thought, experience… and they have Kirk (a topic for different blog, perhaps).
The power of diversity is the additive strength of the team – it is the depth of knowledge, skills, abilities, approaches, and experiences. To truly reach this power, it takes both a diversity of thought – the knowledge, skills, abilities, and a diversity of demographics – approaches and experiences.
Truly diverse teams can see and navigate challenges more easily because they see the world through such a vast collection of lenses. They are more creative, better at resonating with a wider variety of clients, and are generally happier and more productive.
Welcome to True Diversity – Live Long and Prosper.