A Deloitte case study on diversity of thought focused on a major airline that posted a loss of 2.8 billion Australian dollars in 2013. By 2017, that airline posted a record profit of AU $850 million and won several industry accolades. The purported secret to their historic turnaround? Diversity of thought.
The airline realized the benefits presented by diversity of thought, how to encourage this mindset and where to draw the line between accepting diversity and inviting hostile disagreements.
Benefits presented by diversity of thought
In the “good old days,” board members were a largely homogenous group representing a largely homogenous workforce. However, today’s workforce and management are increasingly diverse. Corporations must recognize this changing dynamic or risk extinction.
An inclusive board and C-suite, comprised of various ethnic backgrounds, along with both men and women, provides insight from a broader range of viewpoints. This insight enables the company to consider a wider variety of risk factors when making decisions that will not only benefit shareholders, but the company’s long-term survival as well. A diverse board also ensures that the voices of all stakeholders – employees, customers and shareholders – carry equal weight in positioning the company for future growth.
Gender, race and age, among other factors, often ensure that some voices are heard more clearly than others. Like a choir, though, all voices must carry equal weight to produce a meaningful outcome.
Businesses must learn to truly embrace such diversity, not only because diverse enterprises outperform their competitors by 35 percent, but because the creativity and innovation resulting from valuing every employee generates success.
How to encourage diversity of thought
While outward diversification of race and gender is important, diversity of thought provides a deeper level of meaning to a company's actions. Invest the time to discover the personality traits that might hold employees back from entering group discussions and find a way to overcome those barriers.
Truly hearing these employees encourages them to become more engaged workers and team members. When hiring, think outside the box. If you only hire people who look and think like you, you will only achieve one outcome and hear one point of view, which could adversely affect your business.
Carefully evaluate your management style to ensure that you have created a safe and open environment for all employees. Finally, brainstorming may produce some unorthodox ideas, but it will also deliver ingenious, workable solutions.
Where to draw the line between diversity and hostility
The best way to sum up the difference between diversity and hostility, which is a common byproduct of differing points of view, is the adage, "Just because you are right does not mean that I am wrong." Though two people may look at the same problem, they arrive at it from different directions.
Is it a "6" or is it a "9?" It depends on your point of view. Looking at a situation from a different perspective diffuses hostility and encourages diversity of thought. This approach is particularly important for organizations that routinely struggle with building successful, collaborative teams.
The importance of diversity of thought
In the words of Malcom Forbes, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.” Everyone has an opinion. Every opinion deserves to be heard and thoughtfully considered.
Our founding fathers for example did not agree on every provision of the Constitution for their new government. But they respectfully listened to all sides of each argument and reached a consensus to form the United States of America.
Managers owe it to their Companies to apply these same principles of inclusivity. While you may not create the Articles of Independence, you will create a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all of your employees. This spirit of “thinking independently together” will bring out your employees’ best ideas – ideas that will improve your business and propel it forward into a successful, prosperous and inclusive future.