What kind of manager are you? Are you a manager who represents everything good about managing and valuing diversity? Perhaps your team members feel able to bring their full physical and intellectual power to work every day.
Or, are you a manager who believes that every team member should think, act and behave exactly the same (i.e. the same as you)? Do your team members hesitate before making decisions, waiting to see your initial reaction?
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Squashing Diversity: the impact
I recall delivering a team building session for a team of about 15 members in a large organisation. In pre-session conversations, the line manager was very satisfied that “this is the strongest and most diverse team I have ever managed”. They were delivering a wide range of high impact projects and experiencing huge success.
During the team building session, they completed a communication strengths profile, highlighting the core team strengths (common to the majority of the team) plus a number of ‘outliers’. The outliers highlighted some of the diversity within the team – strengths offered by individual team members.
When I suggested looking at how this diversity could be leveraged for the benefit of the team, the manager asked me to explain the best way to “force” the outlier strengths to the common area. She simply wanted to nullify these strengths as a “strong team happens when everyone is the same”. The nullification process had started.
Able to observe this team from a distance, the team soon became stressed. All opportunities for innovation were quashed and all projects and work had to be agreed by the manager, who then also directed how to proceed. Valuing diversity had disappeared. Team members were now waiting on instruction rather than taking the initiative. Suddenly, people who normally arrived early for work were arriving just on time, taking all breaks and going home right on time. Productivity was hitting an all time low. Absence levels increased and there was a marked reluctance to ‘go the extra mile’.
The result? The most talented team members were first to leave – simply because they had talent, good experience and expertise. They were sought after. Other team members moved sideways in the organisation. The team struggled to replace the people leaving.
So, What Do We Mean By “Valuing Diversity”?
The first thing to note is that valuing diversity is not about compliance. Nor is it just about the ‘numbers’ that demonstrate how diverse your workforce is in terms of gender, ethnicity, culture, age etc. These numbers are important to ensure equality of opportunity. Many organisations have fantastic numbers but still fall far short of valuing diversity.
Diversity is about valuing, embracing and encouraging the contributions and inputs of your entire workforce. It is about every employee feeling that they belong to your team or organisation. It is about creating a culture where idea and solution generation is the norm. A culture where innovation happens. Valuing diversity is about an ethos encouraging all members to value and respect the experience, knowledge and skills of the people around them.
Valuing diversity is about involving and considering the diversity of your workforce in all your business decisions.
Valuing Diversity: the benefits
Progressive companies are looking at diversity in a variety of ways. They look at differences in areas such as thinking styles, work-life balance and socio-economic status. They realise that diversity offers their teams and organisations a raft of benefits, a few of which are included below:
- Celebrating and promoting diversity increases morale. When employees see that they are all being included and valued, they feel important. They feel validated as a full member of this working community that is their team or their organisation and they reward the team with commitment, loyalty and performance.
- Diversity brings different perspectives. This will develop and improve the work skills, thinking and communication skills of all employees on a daily basis. Your employees will benefit from discussing the various world and work perspectives of a diverse team as opposed to being ensconced in a non-diverse team who all think the same. Performance will improve as a result as will their knowledge and understanding of the work they do.
- Considering diversity beyond the usual HR numbers will mean that your teams will be better able to self-manage. Encourage different thinking styles, problem solving and decision making on the job. Empower your team to discuss the obstacles to high performance during their working day and to generate solutions, putting these into practice and learning as they go. This is powerful team development and team building. It is real diversity working on real projects creating real working relationships as the team enjoys its work.
- Diverse teams better reflect the community you serve. Your customers will feel more comfortable with your products when they see the wider community reflected in your workforce. Customer confidence and loyalty will increase as a result.