Diversity of thought: something to think about

Here is how to embrace diversity of thought in your business

The published gender pay gap figures recently highlighted that we’ve still got a long way to go in many industries to improve diversity and inclusion, with women on average earning just 90p to every £1 earnt by a man. However, things are moving in the right direction, and generally, D&I is high on the agenda for many companies. But what about diversity of thought? Is this concept being properly explored by businesses?

Many firms approach D&I as a simple tick-box exercise, focusing solely on hiring certain demographics to hit their targets. This, in turn, can lead to a sense of a ‘job well done’ without any thought towards the impact of this strategy and what this diversity brings to the firm – or how inclusive the firm actually is.

The concept of diversity of thought is a simple one; it simply means that those sitting around the table in a business are bringing a diverse range of opinions, thoughts and decision-making processes.

It stands to reason that a group of people with different backgrounds will bring a more diverse range of views, and being able to approach a problem from a variety of different viewpoints will improve outcomes. Research has proven that more diverse businesses are more profitable and successful.

McKinsey’s most recent Delivering Through Diversity report found corporations that “embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. They also had a 27% likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation”.

Whilst diversity of thought is likely to be achieved due to a team comprised of diverse individuals, the benefits of this type of cognitive diversity can be lost if the “I” part of D&I is ignored. It’s all very well making sure that your business is diverse on paper, but if those people don’t feel supported to make their true feelings and views heard, this benefit is likely to be lost.

It’s here that workplace culture makes a massive difference – creating a workplace with a sense of psychological safety for people will mean they’re not afraid to offer a different way forward from the way it’s always been done. This can be particularly difficult in traditional, hierarchical businesses where the most diverse group of employees may be at the beginning of their careers. These people need to feel safe enough to challenge their more senior colleagues to ensure true diversity of thought is achieved. This means investing time and energy in creating a company culture which doesn’t just pay lip service to being supportive and caring.

The first step is recognising and dealing with any toxic traits which sit within your company culture and creating space for everyone to have a view. Making space for all attendees to contribute to meetings, for example, can be a simple way to help. Similarly, promoting the idea that there’s ‘no such thing as a silly question’ can also give people the confidence to speak out and potentially offer a golden nugget of wisdom which transforms an idea. 

Although the research does indicate a more cognitively diverse team can bring huge benefits to a business, it’s a fine line to tread. You need a team to work together and sing from the same hymn sheet; people with radically different viewpoints are unlikely to meet in the middle, and a very disparate team could create arguments and disruption. This is why it’s so crucial diversity of thought is factored into the recruitment process, and people are hired who ultimately share the same values. Making sure your company identifies and communicates these values is, of course, a very important first step.

At IMD, we’re naturally a very diverse law firm. We focus on supporting international clients and speaking their language, and in a team of 29, we speak 15 languages. However, we’ve never assumed we’d naturally reap the rewards of a diverse team. Instead, we’ve worked very hard, investing in a firmwide culture that supports and celebrates diversity. We’ve found that clear, regular communication is a simple way to do this. In addition, coaching, mentoring and social and wellbeing committees also help a firm like ours retain an open and caring culture.

Diversity of thought is an important concept that often gets excluded from the diversity rhetoric. Focussing too much on the ‘D’ of D&I and not enough on the ‘I’ can mean businesses are failing to unlock their true potential.

By Marcin Durlak, Solicitor and Managing Partner and IMD Corporate.

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