Diversity Insight

Too Much Sameness? Learn the Strengths of Diverse Thinking in the Workplace

When conflicts and misunderstandings boil over in the workplace, managers may be tempted to wish for employees who always think alike. But such managers need to be careful what they wish for.

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When employees share the same racial, ethnic, and religious heritage; come from the same educational background; hail from the same geographic area; experience the same kind of upbringing; and otherwise think alike, they may be on the same page while tackling work projects, but all that sameness can lead to missed opportunities.

Consider, for example, NASA’s recent plan for an all-female spacewalk. The idea seemed especially appropriate since it was to take place in March, which is Women’s History Month. The plan fell apart when it was discovered that just one of the spacewalk suits ready on the international space station would properly fit the two female astronauts slated to make the walk.

Were planners so accustomed to working with men that they didn’t make sure they had the right equipment for both women? Or did the problem stem from some reason unrelated to diversity?

NASA explained that one of the women slated for the spacewalk had trained with the larger-size suit that was available on the space station and had worn it on an earlier spacewalk, but she discovered that the smaller suit would work better. Although there was another smaller suit on the space station, it was a spare and would have required time to prepare it for use. NASA said it was more efficient to change spacewalk assignments than to make the other smaller suit ready.

That explanation doesn’t address whether a lack of diverse thinking led to the glitch. But it’s understandable if those disappointed that the all-female spacewalk didn’t happen might wonder if the problem stemmed from a lack of diversity on the team planning the mission.

Artificial Intelligence Deficiencies

Even employers dedicated to achieving all kinds of diversity—gender, racial, age, disability, military veteran, etc.—still run into traps. For example, the artificial intelligence powering applicant screening software can lead to problems. A February Wall Street Journal report noted one company’s screening program automatically rejected many resumes from women even though it wasn’t intended to do that.

The article notes that despite a desire to recruit for diversity, most professionals who develop artificial intelligence software are still white and male. Increasing the diversity of those who write software programs could alleviate the problem since biases not seen by one group are likely to be noticed—and corrected—by others.

Getting Past “Posting and Praying”

Increasing the diversity of teams that develop applicant screening software is one step to take, but Barb Bruno, president of Good As Gold Training, says software isn’t the whole issue.

“The problem is not the screening software, it’s the way companies are attracting potential hires,” Bruno says. “When companies rely on website or job board postings, they only have access to 15% of the talent pool—those candidates conducting an active job search.”

An employer ignoring the other 85% of the talent pool is missing out on a wealth of diverse candidates with a great track record who often make the best hires, Bruno says. So, she urges employers to proactively network and recruit for diversity.

“They need to target diversity candidates, schools, associations, and resources prior to having specific hiring needs,” Bruno says. “Posting and praying that diverse candidates will apply does not work in this competitive job market. Saying you support workplace diversity is much different than actually taking action that ensures you hire and retain a diverse workforce.”

“Blind” Hiring Practices

Some employers have tried to avoid building a nondiverse workforce by incorporating “blind” processes into hiring, where they hide names, universities, and other resume/application information that may reveal an applicant’s race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. But Bruno isn’t convinced that’s the best way to bring about diversity.

“That solution in my opinion is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone,” Bruno says. “If a company is serious about workplace diversity, they should look at the strengths and challenges in their current diversity hiring. Then pick one metric to improve.”

For example, a company trying to increase the percentage of women in tech roles should attend meet-ups, find online sites women in tech frequent, and attend professional association meetings or events. They also should make sure their websites include recruiting videos that show a diverse group of people working in tech roles. Utilizing employee referrals from a diverse group of employees is another effective way to attract and hire a diverse workforce.

Bruno will present more ideas on recruiting and retaining top talent at RecruitCon, presented by Business and Legal Resources, May 9-10 in Austin, Texas.

Realizing the Payoff

Building a diverse team results in a competitive advantage and increased productivity, Bruno says. “Employees from different cultures, nationalities, and perspectives bring different views and approaches to problems,” she says. Plus, a diverse workforce provides insight into a company’s customer base.

“Employees from a diverse background bring diverse solutions to common goals, which can boost creativity,” Bruno says.

Another payoff comes from having employees who feel included and are confident their ideas are valued, Bruno says. Also, most communities are diverse and creating a diverse workplace reflects the community and increases a business’ chances of expanding into more diverse markets.

Plus, “employing a diverse workforce is the moral and ethical right thing to do,” Bruno says.