March 20, 2018

Diversity as a Competitive Advantage

Last week I posted a comment on LinkedIn: “If an orchestra all played the same instrument, the music would sound dull. A diverse set of musicians with different sounds make dynamic music. An organization with a diversity of gender, race, sexuality, and disability make fuller products and services.” I admit it’s not a perfect analogy—it implied a point about fairness over performance that I certainly wasn’t trying to make—but I’m glad it started the conversation. It could be argued that it’s not necessary to be so explicit, that leaders hire top performers regardless of their background, but I believe that, despite our progress, unconscious bias is still a force to be reckoned with.

I also believe that having a diverse workforce is a business strategy that offers competitive advantage rather than an HR-enforced initiative or checkbox in the name of “fairness.” While HR does play an important part educating hiring managers on unconscious bias, what we’re really talking about when we talk about diversity is creating a business that’s robust, unique, and open to all different views and perspectives.

We know that globalization has given businesses access to a unique and growing customer base around the world. What we can forget is that globalization has done the same thing for talent: we’ve gone from a local pool to global oceans. A wealth of diversity in experience and background is a click away, and it would be foolish not to leverage that. 

In my experience on both scrum and leadership teams, a diversity of cognitive, cultural, and industry experience has a huge positive impact on innovation. I will field a team of top performers with grit—those who had to overcome adversity and still came out on top—over top performers who’ve had it easier every time. Teams like these offer unique perspectives and experiences from their respective journeys that organizations and leaders can leverage to their mutual advantage. 

As leaders, we know we need to hire the best. Period. My advice to you is to go a step further. Hire a top performer, of course, but try to hire a top performer with a different background. Spend some time around people not like yourself—whether that differentiating factor is age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, education, culture, industry, or career stage. Diversity of thought creates a wonderful sense of dynamic opposition, helps to reduce our collective blind spots, and can often push innovation to the next level. 

For those interested in reading more (I’m just starting this research journey myself), I’ve listed some useful resources below. If you have more, let me know in the comments! 

Diversity and Innovation

Gender Diversity in Tech

Thomson Reuters Diversity & Inclusion Index