Making Work As Diverse As Life

The aftershocks caused by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd, in May 2020, have given much-needed prominence to the issue of diversity. In fact, an article by the Financial Times reported an increase of 245% in diversity and inclusivity jobs in the United States, by the end of November last year.

The article quotes Bendita Malakia, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at law firm Hogan Lovells, who says ‘A lot of organisations saw more change in the last half of 2020 than they probably saw in the last 10 years.’
The question for those just entering the world of work is, how do you play your part in this time of rapid social change?

Cognitive diversity

You already know how important it is for a workplace to include a wide range of employees from different backgrounds with different life experiences. But proponents of cognitive diversity believe that it is diversity in thinking, rather than diversity in variables such as age, ethnicity and gender, that make the greatest difference to an organisation. (Although of course, it is likely that external differences are the things that prompt different internal processes in the first instance.)

Research shows that the greater the cognitive diversity of individuals, the higher the performance of the team as a whole. And what’s good for the team also boosts the performance of the wider organisation.

So, actively pursue different opinions and approaches to your own, no matter how challenging you might find them. Let everyone in the room speak. Often social conditioning and peoples’ need to ‘fit in’ means they don’t speak up when they think they’re in the minority. But it’s often within the confines of respectful debate and disagreement that new, original, and successful solutions are created.

Just as a conversation between a group of friends quickly becomes boring if everyone thinks exactly the same, so too do meetings at work. The team dynamic becomes stale and uninspiring without different viewpoints to move the debate along and spark new ideas.

Diversity and you

Look around the screen on your next group Zoom call. How much diversity is there? Although you may not be in a position to recruit, and therefore affect workplace diversity directly in this way, you can ask questions in your organisation and start meaningful conversations around diversity and inclusivity.

It is best to educate yourself before starting these conversations. The BookPal website suggests a list of books to read on diversity, which will enthral you as well as educate you.

For those of you interested in widening your scope to include social justice and activism, the Crescendo website offers a list of Instagram accounts to follow.

Simply taking the time to get to know your colleagues and discover more about their backgrounds is a really good place to start. Be respectful of the fact that not everyone wants to dive straight in with their life stories, but most people are flattered when people take a genuine interest in them.

‘Be kind’ might seem like trite career advice, but it is one of the most powerful things we can do and positively contributes to a work environment where everyone feels safe, heard, and welcome.

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