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I work with leaders on their company cultures across different industries and brands all over the world, and now more than ever, they’re asking some key questions:
• What does the post-pandemic future of work look like?
• How do we attract, develop and retain top talent?
• How do we create psychologically safe workspaces and employee wellbeing?
These are critically important challenges in all organizations, but there is one challenge that I find causes more stress and anxiety than any other: How do we ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded throughout our cultures and our paths forward, rather than merely as a fad or reactionary initiative?
There are many reasons why this particular challenge rises to the top. Among them, as much as society is advancing to create more demographically diverse workplaces, many top leaders in organizations still skew male and Caucasian.
A common theme I hear in my conversations: How can I lead DEI in my organization when I myself am still awakening to my own unconscious biases? What if I say something unintentionally insensitive, ignorant or worse?
The truth is, I have yet to experience any organizational DEI journey that doesn’t have moments of emotion, messiness and even pain. What if this emotional journey stood on a collective foundation of smarter communication, faster collaboration and stronger commitment? This can be achieved, and the answer lies in starting with the “D” in DEI.
Start With Diversity — Specifically Cognitive Diversity.
Cognitive diversity in organizational terms is the measurement of how people and teams think and behave. As DEI initiatives grow globally, measuring and celebrating the diversity of thought is a key ingredient of any strategy aimed at fostering greater belonging in organizations. Emergenetics, a leader in measuring cognitive diversity, has profiled over a half million people for the last 30 years. In one of its surveys, participants had their thinking and behavioral preferences measured. The results found:
• 79 percent of participants gained greater self-awareness.
• 68 percent of participants improved their working relationships.
• 63 percent of participants experienced better collaboration.
Imagine a workforce where everyone has an appreciation for themselves and their teams and has a common vocabulary to express it. As the importance of soft skills like emotional intelligence, self-awareness, adaptability, collaboration and agility increases, organizations that focus on cognitive diversity will have the opportunity to drive healthier decision-making and stronger results than those that do not. Based on science rather than emotion, cognitive diversity is the foundation on which solid DEI journeys can stand.
Here are three ways cognitive diversity benefits workplace culture:
Cognitive Diversity and the ‘Intent-Impact Gap’
Cognitive diversity helps bridge the “intent-impact gap,” which is the difference between how people perceive their own actions versus the way people interpret their actions. When we misunderstand the intentions of others, costly miscommunication and workplace dysfunction arise. Measuring cognitive diversity creates self-awareness among teams, helping individuals understand their own thinking and communication preferences as well as their team members. The result is greater communication, enhanced decision-making skills, healthier cultures, and, yes, more open and honest DEI journeys.
Cognitive Diversity and Demographic Diversity: Better Together
In the context of DEI, many businesses think of the “D” only in terms of demographic diversity. Demographic diversity focuses on measuring the statistical mix across a group among characteristics like gender, race, age, and ethnicity. Cognitive and demographic diversity are both critically important, however, it’s important to note a company can be demographically diverse and still be cognitively similar.
Think about an organization that likes to hire graduates from specific schools, has rigid decision-making structures, or replaces departed talent with new people that have the same skill sets as the former employees. In other words, by focusing on only one type of diversity, organizations run the risk of not enjoying the greatest benefit of diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces: innovation.
Cognitive Diversity Drives Innovation
According to research cited by Deloitte, diversity of thought enhances innovation by about 20 percent, while simultaneously allowing groups to spot potential pitfalls, reducing risk by as much as 30 percent. The U.S. Armed Forces, for instance, recognize the importance of cognitive diversity. An article written by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Strategy and Innovation states: “Innovation requires the ability to question norms, synthesize different views, and collaborate to develop unique and powerful solutions. Cognitive diversity is the DNA of innovation.”
Is your diversity, equity and inclusion strategy diverse enough? By broadening the narrative around diversity, everyone in an organization has a chance to feel part of a shared goal. Combined with demographic diversity, cognitively diverse teams have the opportunity to perform at a higher level than those who only focus on one or the other.
Is cognitive diversity part of your overall DEI strategy? As you ponder this question, consider the evolution from the golden rule to the “platinum rule.” While the golden rule states, “treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” the “platinum rule,” coined by Dr. Tony Alessandra states, “treat others the way they would like to be treated.”
The more we know about ourselves and one another, the closer we are to achieving truly diverse, equitable, inclusive and empowering workplaces where everyone feels a sense of equity, inclusion and belonging.