Why we need a different kind of diversity

Diversity. It’s a hot topic. Numerous companies for instance have a quota for the amount of women they need to hire or have in their management teams. It balances out the team, brings a different perspective, more focused on inclusion and harmony. All good reasons, but who is to say that a woman is the only or best person to do this? Do they really need a woman, or do they need qualities that in general are attributed to women?
Don’t get us wrong, we are very much in favor of not discriminating in your hiring/firing and promotion policies and getting rid of traditional views and ways of working that make equal opportunities for everyone difficult or sometimes even impossible. But what we see, is that 9 out of 10 times companies don’t really know what kind of person they actually need. Of course, you want your new manager to be communicative, pro-active and independent. Of course you would like your new controller to have financial experience and know how to read an excel sheet. But when are they really the right person for the job? And more specifically, for your team? Besides the formal function description and role from a content point of view, what will the informal role of that person (need to) be? And it is this informal role that is often neglected, and not seen as one of the main reasons teams function the way they do.
In general, people are more drawn to others that are similar in how they behave and think. Someone they feel that click with. Let’s say you’re a person whose brain is always ‘on’. Ideas just pop up like mushrooms all day, you love to jump from one idea to the other mid sentence and you always talk fast. Who would you prefer to have as your new team member? That person that can follow your every brainwave, brings in new perspectives, and joins you in talking big and bold ideas? Or someone you see getting annoyed the longer the conversation lasts, asks you questions like ‘but how would that work in practice?’ or ‘I don’t see how that could work, did you run the right calculations on that?’. Nine out of ten would choose the first, because how great is it to have someone you can really bounce things off to? And, let’s face it, also makes you feel pretty good about yourself? And if that person happens to be a man, woman, or from a different cultural background, great! But what happens if one of those amazing ideas actually needs to be implemented? And when you have to start worrying about things like planning, budget, or even worse – details? Absolutely nothing happens…Because it is simply not how your team is wired. They want to create, not implement.
If cognitive diversity is low, if a team is wired to think and act in the same way, you’ll eventually get stuck. You won’t get past the idea phase, or vice versa – you will never step into it and just keep doing what you’ve always done. You’ll focus too much on emotion and not enough on facts, or focus too much on data and forget that there are human beings that are being affected by your decisions as well.
And if you are lucky enough to be in a team where there is already a mix of personalities, don’t underestimate the effect of actually understanding and accepting this. We fear the unknown, and you can get easily annoyed by that ‘pencil pusher’ or ‘scatterbrain’ if their filter is different than yours, and because of that you can’t see and understand what their value to the team really is. Once you have recognized this as a team, you can start playing to those strengths and find new ways to mitigate any gaps your team might have. Have the ‘scatterbrain’ organize the brainstorm sessions. Have the ‘pencil pusher’ do the analysis to back up the ideas that came out of that brainstorm.
When you are valued for your full self and not just your functional background, you can bring your whole you to work and as a team really take it to the next level.
Take a moment to take a step back and think about each of your team members. What do you think their cognitive preference and with that their filter to the world is? How diverse are you? And how has that diversity helped you or resulted in (unspoken) conflict? Discuss it over a (virtual) coffee break with one of your colleagues and start the process of embracing and using the different perceptions to your advantage.

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