Why Every Leader Should Want a Diverse Team
By now you probably know that diversity has become a large focus for companies of all sizes. Many companies are creating leadership positions and departments (e.g. Chief Diversity Officer, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, etc.) dedicated to focusing on carrying forward the message of diversity throughout the workforce. In addition, many companies have started Diversity Councils and Employee Resource Groups that help raise awareness and advocate for diversity. While there is a lot of discussion regarding the need for diversity, we as leaders do not focus a lot on the benefits of having a diverse team.
I believe that in order for someone to share your vision they must understand why and what is in it for them. Our job as leaders is to set the vision for our team and help them understand their part in making that vision happen. It is no different with diversity. If leaders do not understand the positive impact a diverse team can have, they will not be able to develop that vision in others around them. As leaders, if we do not surround ourselves with a diverse team, we will struggle to truly develop a team that is built to address challenges and creatively come up with solutions.
Let’s look at the various types of diversity and the benefits they bring to any leader, team, and organization:
1. Cultural Diversity
This is the most obvious and talked about area when we think of diversity. This is generally looked at through the lens of race, creed, color or sexual orientation. While we tend to focus on the outward differences, it is really the differences in background and cultures that provide the true value. In other words, the outside appearance is merely a reflection of the different perspectives that each person brings to the team. Anyone who has spent any time traveling can attest to the fact that different cultures produce different mindsets. These differences in cultures generally result in a variety of life experiences that ultimately that shape how we think. It is this unique and different way of looking at problems and solutions that can add value to any team.
2. Regional Diversity
I used the term regional diversity recently to describe to someone how important it is that leaders surround themselves with people from different regions besides where they currently live and work. Just as cultural diversity can bring a unique perspective to the workforce, regional diversity can do the same. For example, I work and live in the United States. As someone who has worked all over the country, I can tell you that the pace of work, views regarding work (especially what we refer to as work/life balance), and even workplace decorum is different depending on whether you are on the east coast, west coast, midwest or the south. I believe it is important to have a good mix of people native to the area, as well as people who have worked in other parts of the country when considering diversity on your team.
3. Gender Diversity
This may seem like an obvious one with all of the media attention this gets. As the father of a daughter, I appreciate and fully support the message that a woman should be able to do whatever job she wants and deserves equal pay for that work. As a CIO, I am even more mindful of women in leadership roles as the technology field has not historically been a place where women have thrived in leadership positions. We as leaders have a responsibility to help encourage and mentor women in technology leadership roles. While we often think of women when we hear gender diversity, a recent conversation with a female leader has helped me understand that the opposite can also be true. She explained that her entire department was made up exclusively of women and that she wanted to hire a man to “bring some diversity to the team”.
4. Military Experience
While this oftentimes is not considered “diversity”, I strongly feel that adding military veterans to a team can help bring a unique perspective to the team that cannot be found any other way. In addition to the skills they developed in their respective military branch, they offer a great perspective regarding leadership and how to work towards a common goal. Many of our veterans know how to work under extreme pressure and do a great job at leading in a calm and collective manner when situations get tense. They can be a great addition to any team and help bring diversity of thought in many ways.
5. Generational Diversity
Different generations have different ways of approaching problems and looking at solutions. They also bring a unique approach to leadership. Every leader can benefit from surrounding themselves with Millennials, Generation X/Y’ers, and Baby Boomers. The different life and professional experiences can greatly help when leading a large team made up of each generational group. While some organizations are very focused on catering to one group over the other, we need to make sure all generational groups are engaged in order to have a high-performing team.
In the end, the true benefit of diversity is the diverse perspective and ideas that individuals bring to the group. A leader who surrounds themselves with people who think and act like them will limit what their team can accomplish and never truly form and manage a high-performing team. As leaders, we must seek out those who share the same values and mission but who look at challenges and solutions differently than we do. This is summed up well in a quote from Malcolm Forbes - “Diversity: the art of thinking independently together”. This is the true benefit of diversity.