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Want to Be a Great Leader? Build a Diverse Workforce.

Building a diverse workforce brings different minds and ideas to the table, and that is an advantage every good leader should focus on. Here’s why.

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Photo by Jopwell
Photo by Jopwell

Every thought leadership piece out there drives home the idea that in order to be a fantastic and well-respected leader, there are a few key components you have to build and cultivate. They include things like trust, transparency, humility, and a commitment to the core tenets of being a good human.

However, one thing that is of the utmost importance to being a great leader is ensuring that you continue to bring a wide variety of voices, backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas to the table in the form of a diverse workforce. Diversity is at the heart of any good, sustainable, and profitable business.

Cultivating diversity is a lofty goal to work toward, and it continues to be one of the most challenging traits to encourage in a company. According to a 2018 interview with Boston University Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Evan Apfelbaum, diversity is tough to cultivate because it naturally creates friction in the workplace. As he notes in his interview, “Diverse groups tend to engage in more rigorous decision making, more consideration of different perspectives, which leads them to decisions that are more objective; they’re less likely to make certain mistakes. But that’s not always the easiest social process.”

While it may not be easy, and it may ask us to continually move out of our comfort zone, it is incredibly beneficial for leaders to encourage and foster diversity of thought and ideas in the workplace. Diversity of thought and ideas (as well as backgrounds) challenges us to become more aware of our own assumptions, biases, and even our limited vision. That can make some people uncomfortable, but it’s crucial to ensure a company’s growth. Ultimately, if you want to be a great leader, you have to completely commit to creating diversity of minds and ideas to ensure that your company grows and lasts well beyond your competitors’.

Here’s why encouraging diversity creates such a tremendous advantage in today’s corporate world and why leaders should focus on this crucial aspect of management to ensure positive growth.

More Voices = Better Decisions

In much the same way that sand in an oyster creates a pearl, dealing with people who are different from us—who come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs, sexual orientations, and ethnicities—creates that same sort of strife that forms the core of better decisions and more ideas. Because we are constantly challenged in the way we see and think of others in a diverse workforce, we are continually iterating and improving on our decision making and idea generation.

When there are more voices in the room, you can make better decisions both personally and professionally and improve everyone’s outlook on work as a whole. The fact is that when we bring our whole selves to the office every day (provided we work for a company that supports a good work-life balance and supports our personal and professional needs), we bring our perspectives on life and work to the corporate culture. When that happens, we also bring our different points of view to problems or challenges in our business. That causes us to ask different questions of our teammates and our leaders. We all know that tough questions are at the heart of good decisions and solutions. Those questions push us to make better, more well-considered decisions that can yield better outcomes. The more voices at the table, the better decisions we as leaders can make.

Diversity Improves Teamwork

In the same way that diversity improves decision making, it improves teamwork. Diversity helps create an environment conducive to great collaboration because it encourages the idea of inclusion and puts inherent value on different perspectives. The more voices at the table, the more likely people are to put aside their own prejudices, preconceived notions, and ideas and listen to others who have valuable input to share.

One of the key benefits of diversity in the workplace is that, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs, diverse workforces tend to collectively feel more included and heard. As this 2013 study points out, workers are more likely to be happier in diverse workplaces because the variety of voices not only helps them grow both professionally and personally, but it also helps them work together more cohesively. As the study points out, the more included a worker feels, the more likely they are to show up to work and bring their valuable and diverse ideas.

One thing to note is that diverse teams are not free of conflict—but under a strong leader, that conflict can be harnessed to create great outcomes. Not all conflict is bad. The best way to work with conflict in a diverse team is to acknowledge and respect cultural differences, establish clear roles and responsibilities, and ensure that everyone feels heard. I’ll discuss this topic in depth in a future post, but for now, know that you are not alone in managing conflict in diverse teams and that as a leader, you shouldn’t bury your head in the sand and try to ignore it. Conflict is a natural part of teamwork, and is really central to ensuring long-term business success.

Diversity Improves Creativity and Makes Your Company Smarter

We’ve heard it all a thousand times: Diversity improves creativity. But does it really? Most studies point to yes, but not for the reasons you might think.

First, diversity yields different perspectives on how to solve problems, which, as this 2008 study shows, can improve solutions and creativity. Because people from different backgrounds are bringing their own experiences to the table, solutions to problems are often unique and tailored, causing a better outcome.

Second, as I mentioned above, diversity challenges us to question our own perspectives on problems. Ultimately, diverse teams are smarter than those that lack distinct and different voices. As this story over at Harvard Business Review (HBR) points out, diverse teams are often smarter because they focus on the facts and process those facts more objectively from a variety of standpoints. That means that when it’s time to cook up a creative solution, the team that has a variety of voices is going to offer a more creative idea.

Businesses today rely on innovation and creativity, and as the HBR story points out, “Enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential.” Add to this the fact that when you get a group of smart people in a room, their creativity often bounces off each member, and ideas abound, leading to brand-new and innovative products and solutions. A study of more than 7,000 businesses that participated in the London Annual Business Survey and published in Economic Geography in 2015 supports that idea. It shows that cultural diversity boosts innovation by a significant percentage. Companies with diverse leadership teams are more likely to develop innovative new products than those made up of teams of similar people. Diversity is crucial to creativity and innovation.

Diversity Yields More Profit

One of the biggest reasons every good leader should encourage diversity is that, ultimately, diversity will boost the company’s bottom line, and it makes good business sense. Diversity brings a fresh perspective to a company or project. It helps stir the pot just enough to create challenges and friction that can push teams further and help them cook up better, more creative, and more innovative ideas and solutions.

Ultimately, however, business is about the bottom line, and diversity has also been proven to be an integral part of profitability. One oft-cited study by the Boston Consulting Group, completed in 2018, shows that companies with a diverse leadership board saw a 19% increase in revenue as a direct result of innovation. A more recent study shows that companies with diverse leadership could be more than 43% likely to see above-average profits. As McKinsey points out, “When companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful. More diverse companies, we believe, are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

All of those factors combine to create a prime situation for improved profitability, long-term sustainability, and a more committed workforce. By committing to the diversification of your workforce, you are committing to business success as a leader.

The Bottom Line on Diversity and Leadership

We’ve all heard that diversity is just plain good business, but at its heart, what we are really talking about is the fact that diversity brings different minds and ideas to the table. That gathering of different and varied outlooks creates companies and leaders that make better decisions; create a greater sense of teamwork; build smarter, more creative teams; and ultimately improve profitability. Without investment in diverse voices, companies and leaders will fade into the background and cease to grow. By creating a company where many different perspectives, backgrounds, ideas, and thoughts are welcomed and honored, company executives can ensure that they are creating a sustainable business that will last well into the future.

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