I’m only going to say this once: your company doesn’t get Diversity. They think they do, they kind of know what to say, they are pretty good at going through the elementary motions, and some of them look pretty good while they do it. But it’s time to face up to the fact that they really just don’t get it. And here’s the deal, my fellow HR experts: you probably don’t get it either. And that’s not helping anything…at all.
Diversity never (really) has been about black or white or purple. It’s not about girl or boy. It’s not about whether you follow Jesus Christ, Allah, or the Foo Fighters. It’s not about whether you are enamored of the same, opposite, or both sexes. And it’s not about on which of the seven continents (or six, depending on who you ask) you were born and raised. Diversity, above all else, is about ‘difference.’ And difference doesn’t just come in color, gender, religious affiliation, sexual preference, or ethnic origin. It comes in absolutely everything related to the human condition. Everything. One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard someone say about diversity is also probably one of the most simple. Joe Gerstandt, leading authority on diversity in the world of work, freak-flag-flier, and all-around bona fide bad-ass says (and he said it in front of a bunch of HR pros at the recent Annual SHRM Conference), “whenever you have two people in a room, diversity is present.”
Now humor me: just pause and think about this profound statement for a moment. 1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10. What do you think? Some of you are thinking, “finally, enlightenment…now I get it,” while others are thinking, “wrong wrong wrong, he’s totally missing the point,” and others are thinking, “I’m hungry, what the hell am I going to have for lunch.” You’re all thinking something at least slightly different. And ‘difference’ is…yes, ‘diversity.’ Diversity of thought – or cognitive diversity – is the most common denominator in the human condition and it is far more prevalent in the workplace than anything else you’ve been looking for. Certainly far more than your EEOC statistics can even begin to measure.
Don’t get me wrong. Your looking to alter the demographic mix of your workforce is interesting…and likely, it furthers a worthy cause. But if you really want to build a diverse workforce, start by celebrating the one you already have. Start by getting your employees to embrace the fact that the person sitting across the hall doesn’t always think the same way they do. Start by ferreting out opposing ideas in meetings. Start by giving a voice to those who are typically most reticent to share. And then work on leveraging these different thoughts, opposing ideas, and conflicting sentiment toward better solutions and more innovation…every time. Learning to embrace cognitive diversity, especially when it’s from people who look just like you will ready you for embracing people who don’t.
Image Credit: Metal Chris (c/o Compfight)