Yup, diversity might be tough…but it is worth it.

This HBR article highlights some great areas of research and raises some interesting points when it comes to our perceptions of how diversity impacts performance. It resonates with a  lot of the conversations I have with clients about both gender and cultural diversity in their organisations.

“Working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.”

We assume that because we are “all the same”, things are going to be smooth. We often overestimate the problems that will come from diversity.

As a new manager of a team in 2008, I was keen to increase the diversity of our hiring.  The previous hiring criteria had been young, bilingual Japanese women with a slight interest in “admin”. Average length of time in the job was 10 months, morale was very low and group think was rife.

I worked hard to explain to our HR team that we needed to broaden our hiring criteria. I hired a lady with grown up children returning from a career break, a woman with over 10 years experience in large Japanese corporations. These ladies brought maturity and experience and a passion for service and teamwork to the group.

But then most shocking of all, I hired…a man. Yes, a Japanese man for an admin role.

“Is he clean? ” and “Will S. san really feel comfortable doing the same jobs as everyone else (aka the women in the team)” were some of the questions I fielded.

The answer to both was “Yes”… and S san is one of the most effective support professionals I have ever had the pleasure to work with.

It certainly took some time for the team to adjust to the diversity of experience and ideas but having a range of perspectives enabled us to come up with better solutions to support our customers.

“Research suggests that when people with different perspectives are brought together, people may seek to gloss over those differences in the interest of group harmony — when, in fact, differences should actually be taken seriously and highlighted.”

A lot of work I do in the field of cross-cultural communication focuses on this. The need to understand and accept the different cultural norms and values is essential. Frameworks like Hofstede and Hall give a neutral vocabulary to discuss cultural tendencies. Clients can then approach real life situations with a new awareness of potential cultural lenses that need to be applied

“If, however, leaders can recognize that the debate and unfamiliarity that come with diversity is an important catalyst for creativity and deep thinking, they will invite it and celebrate it. “

When you live and work every day with people from different backgrounds, the need to question everything that you think is “normal” is so powerful. It gives you the opportunity to turn over your own assumptions and truths.

What is your organisation doing to invite and celebrate diversity? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

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