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Thought Leadership 04 June 2019

Turn diversity into inclusion for innovation, teamwork and profitability

In recent years, business leaders have turned their attention to diversity and inclusion (or D&I), with mixed motivations, a range of approaches, and an even greater array of outcomes, successful or otherwise. In your organisation, D&I might be an initiative you’re totally on top of, a policy that feels too big to tackle, or a good intention that’s sitting somewhere in your business strategy, but isn’t ready to be acted on just yet.

What we see in our work with clients, is that the focus on diversity often comes first. The best leaders genuinely want to have a range of voices, experiences, viewpoints and skills in the room when decisions need to be made, projects need to be completed, and strategies need to be turned into living, breathing ventures. However, there is often an anxiety in the boardroom about getting this right, which can often make diversity come across like a checkbox exercise; a nod to corporate life in the 21st century, and a willingness to meet the minimum legal requirements required of them. That’s a start – but fostering diversity should act as the first step on a journey towards true inclusion. Diversity can bring a richness to organisations and teams, but simply having a range of voices isn’t enough. Those different voices also need to be invited into the room, encouraged to speak up, and heard without prejudice. These less-heard voices, these people who may be outliers in your organisational culture, need to be included.

How diversity can differ

Diversity is complex and layered; there are different types of diversity that business leaders need to be cognisant of. In the widely-recognised model by Gardenschwartz and Rowe, there are layers of diversity, ranging through primary attributes, i.e. sex, race, abilities, etc, to organisational factors such as function, location, and managerial level. What we see is that, very often, leaders account for the primary, secondary, and organisational facets of diversity – but it’s personality traits that are often forgotten. Enter Insights.

Take diversity, and make it personal

Many D&I initiatives focus so strongly on demographic elements, such as age, sex, disability, and race, that they fail to see the uniqueness in every individual. By dividing up a workforce with such broad strokes, leaders are failing to tap into the wonderful differences and range of preferences that lie at the individual level. In any team, there will be a huge range of personalities and preferences; from the Extraverts to the Introverts, the team player to the lone wolf, the task-motivated to the people-pleaser, the comedian, the thinker, the ideas factory, the data nerd – there is inherent diversity at the individual level. It’s just that corporate culture often doesn’t demand it, welcome it, or see a particular need for it.

But here’s the thing. It’s these real human differences which are the boon to innovation, teamwork and profitability. Differences of opinion, various approaches to problems, difficult exchanges of views – out of this difficult, human, messy stuff can come absolute gold, if leaders know how to maximise that human potential. At the personality layer, true diversity already exists – it’s up to the leaders of an organisation to take that wonderful variety and embed it into an inclusive culture.

When you work with Insights, our first step is to help every member of a team dial up their self-awareness. We help people understand why they think, act, work, and communicate the way they do, the unique value they bring when they’re working to their full potential, and help them address what they find difficult about workplace relationships. And at the team level, we help everyone understand why their colleagues think, act, work, and communicate in the different ways that they do. That means that people truly get themselves, really know who they’re working alongside, and can adapt their approach to make the best of the relationships around them. Understanding the range of personalities that exist in the team leads to a much more inclusive culture. Every voice can be not just heard but appreciated, each idea can be met with a growth mindset, and previously tough conversations can be made more open and honest.

Turn diversity into profitability

For there to be inclusion, leaders need to recognise the differences that exist in the workforce, and truly value them all, by letting the strengths of each person shine, in their own way. Successful corporate cultures are not created by leaders; instead they grow organically, as a reflection of the human community that makes up the workforce. So don’t try to impress upon your organisation, department, or team what the culture should be, let the culture flourish however it wants to, in a way that feels like everyone is inherently part of it. Leaders should surround themselves with people smarter than them, set them up for success, and then let them soar. That will take people of all kinds; dreamers, makers, team players, those with great project skills, design skills, empathy, listening skills, the ability to speak up in difficult situations, the will to push past what they thought was possible. We call these human skills, and they’re core to every successful organisation we’ve ever worked alongside.

True inclusion means inviting in all of the voices in your organisation, whether they’re comfortable for you to hear or not, or whether they conform to the overriding culture, or differ from it in unexpected ways. It’s only by digging down into the boundless variety that all people hold within them, and that multiplies exponentially when they come together with a common purpose, that organisations can reap the real rewards of innovation, teamwork and immense profitability.

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