Let’s be honest. Diversity quotas are the single most frustrating thing about workplaces today. The reasoning for having a quota is well-intentioned, but, ironically, it’s the quota itself that is getting in the way of diversity, every single day. Because of this, companies are wasting the talent they have hired and don’t even know it, because it’s never crossed their minds to do more than simply hire a candidate and check off the “diversity” box.
Hear me out.
The problem is that companies hire diverse teammates and then silo them into programs that echo their diversity. Hands up if you’re guilty of only having your Latin American team members work on the Latin American market! I am so tired of this kind of thinking and it’s time to switch things up. It’s time to create workplaces that actually harness the value that diversity brings.
Look at it this way, creativity and innovation are about thinking differently. People who look Different to you, Think Different to you and will help you Think Different! What’s more, different cultures and backgrounds have different ways of solving problems. Ways you will have likely never experienced. Companies get this, in theory, but they’re usually stumped when it comes to making it work.
So, trust me when I say, we can all do better. Because if you’re brutally honest with yourself (a trait I encourage!), it hasn’t worked, has it? Or at least not like you hoped.
Let me ask you this, what have you done to promote integration? If you’re like most companies, you sat your diversity hires at a desk, crossed your fingers and hoped for the best. Perhaps you handed over a hefty document outlining duties, gave them forty-nine new programs to familiarize themselves with, signed them up for a few training sessions, invited them to a scattering of meetings, and then left them to settle in. But then what? Probably nothing. You sat back and waited for the great ideas to roll in. As common as this is, it’s setting the wrong tone for creativity and innovation. Diversity hiring is only the first step.
But why isn’t it enough?
The current brand of thinking assumes that merely by hiring people unlike ourselves, we will foster creativity. As if by simply employing a different type of person and waving your magic wand they’ll fix all of your creative problems.
Nobody can do that. Not even me.
Hiring someone for diversity becomes arbitrary if you do not build the right environment for them to be creative in. It ignores the cultural shift needed to create an innovative workforce and assumes that by putting someone at a desk, the ideas will flow. As we all know – from bashing our heads against the wall when our ideas decide to take an impromptu hiatus -that’s not how creativity works.
So why do we expect a diversity hire to fix an office where creativity doesn’t already flow? I’ve thought about this a lot, and it seems to me that it’s because it’s easier to hire and forget than admit to ourselves that we need to overhaul our company culture first.
Building a creative thinking team is so much more than just hiring one
We know that diversity is vital for creativity, but most of us seem to miss a major piece of the puzzle. What we need to do is intentionally create teams where different points of view are encouraged and nurtured. Where people get to know and trust each other enough to seek out opinions or ideas that are not their own.
Take a long hard look at your business and think about whether or not you’re trying to build or just hire a team. No matter how many people you hire, if you don’t put the time, effort and resources into team-building, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for.
If you are one of the many who are living in a corporate culture that dampens creativity, then your diversity hires will be just as cautious (if not more so) than everyone else. So if you want to get their best ideas, you will need to make meetings a place where everyone feels safe and are happy to jump in with their diverse ideas.
How you can assess your own diversity
If you’re struggling with getting creativity out of your “diverse” team, it’s time to ask what you can do differently.
Here are just some questions to get you thinking. Answering these with honesty can help you shift your perspective and think about how to better develop a space for diverse creativity.
- What do your project teams look like? What are their backgrounds? Did they all graduate from the same school and come from the same cultural background? If so, switch it up!
- What is the existing culture in meetings? Most of us will follow the example set by others, so you can’t expect new hires to walk in and suddenly shake up a 5-year wall of silence (unless that’s their specific job!).
- How much agency do your staff really have over their work? Look at encouraging creativity by respectfully listening to and considering all points of view in the room. Seek out opinions rather than briefing people on what you already think. Nobody wants to be treated as if they’re an echo chamber.
- Do team-building efforts embrace multiculturalism? Creativity and idea-sharing can be a vulnerable process, and people are more likely to go out on a limb when they feel they are valued and belong.
- Does your business structure fit the status-quo? Who has positions of power? Who makes big decisions? How might that look to a diverse hire, can they see room to grow?
- Have you delved deeper into what makes your staff actually diverse? Because if you haven’t, chances are you’re wasting some of their talents.
Don’t ignore deep-level diversity – it matters most!
When most of us think of diversity, we jump straight to gender, age, race and culture. We think in demographics rather than taking a look at psychological factors like personality type, values and abilities. To have a truly creative thinking team, you could argue that these deep-level differences are far more critical.
In fact, focusing only on race or colour can be a barbed path. For example, as a British ex-pat living and working in the USA, I cannot speak for all people who fit my description. To assume that I can due to my accent, appearance or strongly voiced opinions would be an error. I can speak to some of the values of someone similar to me. But by reducing me to those descriptors, a company would miss out on most of what I bring to the table.
We need to delve deeper than just hiring the label affixed to the person. We need to understand those things which have a more profound impact on their suitability for the job.
If you really want a diverse team, there’s no harm in having the odd pessimist to bulletproof an idea. Similarly, looking for an insightful introvert makes a lot more sense than hiring based solely on cultural background. Too often, I see management who are distracted by hiring quotas. They seem to forget the people sitting in front of them, and the unique blend of experiences and insights each person brings to the table.
It’s time to dump that hiring quota and focus on real diversity
Whether your business is big or small, there’s room for improvement when it comes to using diversity to foster creative thinking. Most companies also need to work on their cultural habits if they want to get the most out of the talent they are hiring. By focusing only on diversity quotas you stop hiring candidates based on what they bring to the table. It’s time we started to redress the balance and find a way to create diverse workplaces where differences of thought and deep-level diversity are encouraged to shine.
Additional Resources for Creativity
Don’t forget to check out my recent TED talks!