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Executive Leadership: Embracing and Leveraging Diversity
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Executive Leadership: Embracing and Leveraging Diversity- Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Embracing and Leveraging Diversity

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Embracing and Leveraging Diversity

Nobody has to convince you of the value of diversity. When organizations are homogenous in experience, education, and personality, ideas take on a sameness that can hinder progress. Yet the concept of diversity seems so often in our conversations to be characterized in two very confining ways. We fall back on diversity in racial and ethnic makeup as a measuring stick for our forward thinking, and we think of diversity either as a goal itself or as a concession. Yet there is more to diversity than the lands of our forebears, and diversity is a strength that can be more than quotas or restrictions: embraced sincerely, it can be a driving, dynamic force in creating new thought or new solutions, and it can make your company a place that draws and holds the best talent.

Diversity does mean a composition of different backgrounds and cultures, but it means so much more. It means the inclusion of people with different personalities, working styles, habits of mind, values, and priorities. It means fair consideration for parents with five children, the unapologetically single, the artist, the pragmatist, the dreamer, and perhaps the attention-challenged or differently able. It means you’re not only accommodating differences, but creating environments where people can do their best work for your organization. It might mean rethinking your concept of professional attire, or it could mean redefining the workday to match the lives and inclinations of your team, but it also means fertile and productive office environments, or the advantages of having people in the office for more hours during the week.

American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in Team of Rivals (her biography of Abraham Lincoln, upon which the award-winning film Lincoln is based), highlights the sixteenth President’s wisdom in including advisors who were in direct opposition to him on issues related to policy and war. This wasn’t merely a Godfather-esque “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” strategy, but an understanding that a range of thinking from one end of a spectrum to another made him a better decision-maker. And in Why Should Anyone Work Here?, their excellent book on creating authentic organizations, authors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones cite diversity as the first characteristic of authentic workplaces. Their research says, “Because people’s individual gifts were celebrated and their limitations accepted, they felt free to raise ‘stupid’ questions without censure. This was important; people were allowed to be who they were, and therefore an exceptional clash of ideas, knowledge, and experience occurred.”

In order for this kind of diversity to express itself to its fullest advantage, however, differences must not be the goal in themselves, and they must not be simply tolerated, but celebrated. This is not always easy: that brilliant but attention-challenged tech manager can be difficult to put up with in brainstorming sessions, often driving teammates to frustration. Yet when that difference is embraced, the attention challenge itself can yield valuable fruit: often those who are easily distracted are the first to notice a critical detail, for example. Similarly, differences in working styles, management styles, or even fashion styles can be leveraged for their strengths, but they must be given environments in which they might thrive. Embracing differences, especially those differences that in many environments can be seen as hindrances, can require a complete shift in company culture, but once upon a thankfully long-gone time, that was true of mere differences in skin color, too.

 

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