Is your understanding of diversity all wrong?
By W. Coby Milne
Do you know the true value of diversity?
Like many people who work in Workforce Development and Talent Development, I am often consumed with recruiting. Recruiting is something that can completely take over your day, your energy, and your mind. Organizations always seem to be in recruitment mode, recruiting employees, partners, volunteers, board members, and vendors. To do it right, it is often challenging, exhausting, complex, and time-consuming.
However, to be completely honest, I actually kind of like recruiting. Especially when it’s for the assortment of levels, positions, skill sets, and experience that I work with on a regular basis. But more than the recruiting, I really like playing a part in maximizing the skills and potential that new people bring to their new roles. The unique viewpoints, backgrounds, strengths, and ideas really excite me.
I am a true believer in a strengths-based approach to teamwork, which means working with people with wide-reaching skills and knowledge that have little overlap and letting the people work primarily within their strengths while keeping them away from their areas of weakness. As an example, in a previous leadership role, I had an Economic Development Officer (EDO) who was an amazing relationship builder and an innovative problem solver but lacked administrative organizational skills. So I let my EDO focus on his strengths and we arranged a system where he could share the more administrative tasks within his team with someone who has great skills and leadership with organizational tasks. Why hold them back from the things they do well? The other piece of maximizing skills and potential that I am a true believer in is discourse. Maybe it is the academic in me, but I adamantly believe that divergent views and lively debate are essential to true progress and innovation. Impactful discourse can only come from diversity… but this may not be the diversity most people think of.
Diversity of Perspective
Now, I don’t want to misrepresent my expertise by talking about diversity. I know there are strong opinions and important, deep, and complex considerations when addressing diversity. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are critically important to talk about and address at all levels of business and the workforce. I want to be very clear right at the start, I am not an expert in Diversity, but I am well versed in the value of recruiting for diversity.
When I speak about recruiting for diversity, I am not talking about hiring a bunch of people who just look different or meet specific criteria or boxes to check. To me, that just leads to tokenism (the practice of doing something, such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group, only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.) In fact, I’m kind of disgusted by the lack of respect and the lack of general decency that tokenism invokes. What I’m saying is that the true value in recruiting for diversity is gaining the diversity of perspective.
As I mentioned earlier, two important elements of maximizing the skills and the potential of groups, organizations, or individuals are a strengths-based approach and discourse. These elements can only exist in a team when there is a dynamic of the diversity of perspective; new viewpoints to share, unique experiences to pull from, different struggles that have been conquered, and distinctive approaches to common issues, just to name a few. If this diversity of perspective does not exist then all efforts for development and innovation are doomed to fail or at best, be mildly impactful.
We don’t need Ambassadors
When most people think of diversity, they think of a group of people whose members represent different cultures, races, languages, sexual orientation, gender, class, and abilities. These are some of the different backgrounds that create the common understanding of diversity. The problem with thinking of diversity as a form of representation is that even the most well-meaning efforts become tokenistic in their desire to have all backgrounds visibility represented.
The true value of diversity is the range of perspectives that it allows. The differences of culture, race, language, sexual orientation, gender, class, and ability inherently give people individual experiences that build the uniqueness of their perspectives. At the same time, each person is allowed to be an individual and not an “ambassador” for their particular minority group. We want the whole person to be involved and engaged. Their background will form their perspective, not define it.
The true value of diversity is the range of perspectives that it allows. The differences of culture, race, language, sexual orientation, gender, class, and ability inherently give people individual experiences that build the uniqueness of their perspectives.
The Dull Grey of the Homogenous Perspective
Without the commitment to recruiting diversity of perspective, we run the risk of putting a lot of work into something that is only valued by a particular segment of the population we are trying to inspire, sell to, develop, or whatever. We all like to surround ourselves with like-minded people, but we need to be careful and consider why they are like-minded. Are they like-minded in goals and vision? Are they like-minded in their appreciation of progress and challenge? Or Are they like-minded because we have the same background and perspectives?
Recruiting for diversity of perspectives is simply the best way to be the best. I personally look for the strengths-based approach and truly value discourse, which only can come from diverse thoughts, insights, and opinions. Reaching the largest audience, finding innovative marketing segments, creating competitive advantage, and accelerating problem-solving efforts, are just a few of the possible benefits that come from recruiting for diversity of perspectives.
e run the risk of putting a lot of work into something that is only valued by a particular segment of the population we are trying to inspire, sell to, develop, or whatever. We all like to surround ourselves with like minded people, but we need to be careful and consider why they are likeminded. Are they likeminded in goals and vision? Appreciation of progress and challenge? Or because we have the same background and perspectives?
Recruiting for diversity of perspective is simply the best way to be the best. I personally look for the strengths based approach and truly value discourse. Reaching the largest audience, finding innovative marketing segments, creating competitive advantage, and accelerating problem solving efforts, are just a few of the possible benefits.
Value diversity because you truly want to be the best. Don’t value diversity because you want to have nice pictures of unique faces. Recruit people who will have many different viewpoints and insights. Don’t recruit people who look different and define their value by their differences. Perspectives are essential to a business’s ability to problem-solve, create collaborative teamwork, maintain strict ethics, maximize training, encourage personal growth, and raising the potential of everyone. Put great efforts into gathering as many perspectives as you can.