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Leadership Development 26 August 2021

Diversity of thought: buzzword or a real benefit to your business?

People Director at Insights, Anna Hart, explores how leaders can create real diversity of thought in the workplace…

Diversity of thought is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but it’s also one that comes with its fair share of controversy. Forbes advised us to stop talking about diversity of thought recently, describing it as a “risky concept to find comfort in”. Apple’s former vice president of diversity and inclusion caused a media storm following comments around the topic. That said, plenty of others very much advocate for diversity of thought. Deloitte, for one, has pointed to how it can safeguard against group think by triggering “more careful and considered information processing.”

At Insights, we DO believe in diversity of thought and the value it adds to organisations. In fact, we have a pretty unique take on diversity of thought, which relates to our whole learning and development model. But first of all, let’s look at diversity of thought in more general terms. Who is responsible for creating diversity of thought within an organisation? What should it look like? And how do we ensure that diversity of thought in business is more than just a buzzword?

Why diversity of thought needs leaders

Well, the responsibility must lie with leaders – because they’re the ones who set the blueprint for how a business looks, feels, and the touchpoints within it. Firstly, we can’t just expect to put people in a room together and expect results. As Harvard Business Review points out, “Simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership — leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired.” In short, you can’t have diversity of thought without inclusion, and diversity of thought will only work when you have inclusive practices in place.

For leaders, that drive for diverse thought starts at the hiring process. As this report puts it, “It’s always easier to hire and promote someone who brings more of your value system to the table,” she says. “But you really need someone who is comfortable challenging existing systems to innovate.” This idea is backed up by solid data, with HBR finding that that diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people. Another study showed that inclusive teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time. Put simply, leaders need to hire people who don’t think like them, and who challenge the status quo rather than conform, for bigger business impact.

Authenticity matters more than ever

However, diversity of thought should never just be the route to increased productivity, it should always be about creating a working environment that you’re proud to be a part of. Although businesses may think they have great culture, they must look inwards and ask themselves whether they’re truly enabling their employees to bring their own set of values and beliefs to work. And if not, why not?  As is asked here, “Do your employees openly discuss their families, dating life, extracurricular activities and community involvement? If not, it is a sign of separation that may indicate important areas for improvement in your organisational culture.”

For the younger generation in particular, authenticity matters, and being able to show up at work in a way that feels true to each individual is more important than ever. Leaders have to focus on creating a space where people feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work, in all facets, instead of a work persona created to fit in rather than stick out.

We also have to be wary of presenteeism. Some organisations may think they have diversity of thought in their C-suite, for example, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone at that table is privy to the same experience. As the Harvard Business Review observes, side conversations are still a big issue within boardrooms and “Conducted improperly, [side conversations] can encourage political manoeuvring, marginalize members with key expertise, foster inappropriate alliances, and lead to poor decisions. Instead of making the team better, they can make it dysfunctional.”

Valuing difference in our people

Ultimately, diversity of thought is about valuing our employees for the differences – rather than the similarities – they bring. One final way to do that is to bring an inclusive and respectful language into the conversation, something that Insights advocates through our learning and development solutions. Founded in the psychology of Carl Jung, we believe that everyone leads with one of four color energy preferences: Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green and Cool Blue, that each have different strengths.

Diversity of thought comes to life in the different approaches of each of the colour energies. The task focus of Fiery Red energy, which helps leaders tough out projects to the end. The creative vision and big picture thinking of Sunshine Yellow energy. The compassion, empathy, and ability to listen deeply that Earth Green energy brings. And finally, the gift of analysis and objective decision making from our Cool Blue energy. While we all have access to these four colour energies, it is likely that we have a preference for one or more over the others, which will come through in our leadership style. If leaders value all four colour energies, their team members will feel comfortable expressing differences in thought, knowing their perspective will be heard and appreciated.

Buzzword or not, controversial or not, diversity of thought opens up the conversation to different approaches, processes, and personal styles. Homogeny can sneak up on our organisational culture, even if we do think we’re getting a lot right, and so it’s up to leaders to guard against it. Why? Because creating a space where everyone feels visible and valued is never just a ‘nice to have’.

Anna Hart is the People Director at Insights and heads up our global People function. Passionate about leadership and personal development, she leads the charge in our desire to deliver on our purpose; to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything that they do.

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