Different types of diversity contribute directly to innovative thinking

There are many different types of diversity to consider

Diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic across organisations for the last few years and at last we are beginning to see progress at many levels of the organisation - although not yet quite as much at the top of most of them as there should be.

Much of the focus to date has been centred on gender, sexual orientation and ethnic diversity and while I don't want to detract from the importance of addressing the historic inequality of representation within these groups across all levels of an organisation, there are many other different types of diversity I encourage you to take into consideration when assembling teams and advisory boards.

This is not a "box ticking exercise" to report on your annual statements.

There are irrefutable, tangible benefits to increasing the different types of diversity across your entire organisation.

This was brought home during an advisory board meeting I participated in this week. The executive team presented a proposal for a major change and requested feedback from the NED team on their proposal. The executive team are all smart, capable and accomplished in their field but 3 of us on the NED team all picked up on multiple areas that we thought needed further consideration. The fascinating part was that although we all had picked up on the same issues and we all have a common industry overlap, we came at them from very different perspectives due to the different types of diversity that came into play:-

  • diversity of thought - I'm a "systems thinker" and rapidly connect the dots to consider the broader implications on strategy, while the majority of the team have an execution focus - if you all "think the same way" you will all reach the same conclusions and solutions
  • diversity of cultural background - having diversity of ethnic origin does not always equate to diversity in cultural background and the corollary is also true - for me cultural diversity is arguably even more important than ethnic diversity as it brings a very different perspective to the table
  • diversity of career path - while most NED's are selected based on executive positions they have held in the past (which is not the best indicator of suitability for the role in my opinion), the different "paths to the top" that each of us has brings a very different perspective to our views
  • diversity of geography - in the case of this organisation, they have not limited themselves to selecting their advisory board from a single geography, they have actively sought out people that can bring different geographical perspectives with them
  • diversity of age - the "old timers" among us should not be written off too quickly but equally, there is a desperate need for a youth perspective at the highest level of an organisation

The advisory board is not (yet) quite as diverse as I would like it to be (something I'm working on) but the output from the session far exceeded the expectations of the organisation and the resulting strategy is far stronger due to the diversity of the advisory board.

Diversity Drives Innovation

It is no secret that Innovation is my personal passion. I firmly believe that Innovation, Change and Transformation will be business critical to survive the post pandemic economic slump that will sweep across the globe - and diversity has a huge role to play in innovation as illustrated by one of my favourite quotes of all time from Telle Whitney shown here.



This quote alone should motivate you to strive to achieve many different types of diversity beyond those which I've already outlined above, including (but not limited to) diversity of educational background, mental and physical ability, empathy and emotional capability, interests outside of work and pretty much every facet of what makes us human.

And if you need empirical evidence to convince you then just do a quick google search on "how diversity drives innovation" and browse the results - Harvard Business Review has done a number of studies on the topic in the past and they are a great starting point!

I am always on the lookout for stories that illustrate my point and in keynotes on the topic I've referenced

  • How an admin assistant came up with a simple idea taken inspired by a movie to save a company millions of dollars
  • How a marine biologist solved a complex technical problem that had the engineers stumped
  • How a surgeon saved lives by applying concepts borrowed from his love of F1 racing
  • How a rural doctor saved time and money by applying principles of a childhood toy to his work

In each case, the solution to the problem came from outside of the skillset or capability that was hired for which is why I strongly advocate including your entire organisation in the process of innovation.

Fun Fact

Sadly however, I still see the same mistakes made by recruiters the world over. While they loudly proclaim in their recruitment adverts that they are an "equal opportunities employer" and they rattle off their credentials concerning LBGTQ, age and veteran status etc, what I inevitably see resembles a bag of M&M's ......... (ha - you didn't think I created the header image of this blog randomly did you???).

Here is a fun fact for you -

ALL M&M's taste exactly the same regardless of the colour of their candy coating!


You see - when your recruiting efforts constantly "fish in the same pool" of candidates, looking for the same qualifications (and even worse, often from the same academic institutions) and the same industry experience and then you put them all through the same psychometric evaluations and selection processes you end up with a team that might visually look varied, but are all essentially "the same inside".

Take a good look around you.

No matter where in the organisation you sit.

Be honest with yourself - is your team truly as diverse as it could be?

If you truly embrace diversity in all its many flavours, you will reap unexpected benefits beyond your wildest expectations.