For diversity to become a benefit, a change in thinking is needed. Rigid rules do not lead to more diversity but a monoculture.
What exactly is diversity?
Diversity comes from Latin and means variety and multiplicity (Duden, foreign dictionary). Synonymous with diversity, the terms heterogeneity, difference, difference, assortment, and difference are often used. The term diversity focuses on similarities and differences between people. It focuses on historically grown social differentiations that have created social inequalities. The name is, therefore, program. There are many different forms and concepts of diversity.
When I was still working for IBM years ago, the company was also committed to diversity. And indeed, there was a diverse work landscape there. People from all parts of the world worked together in open spaces or could be reached worldwide through technology. There were many posters on the walls with statements that were intended to emphasize this way of working. One of them had always particularly impressed me and had ultimately also driven me.
Going your way and explore new paths - personal responsibility. In the end, the reality was different: own footsteps, yes, own tracks rather no. That was years ago, but today we know more: giving employees a choice where and when they want to work is only one necessary condition. How they want to work or how they want to solve a problem is much more critical. However, doing it yourself is still not desired. The fear of losing control seems to be too great for the managers. But they do not want to do without their ideas. As an example, I often hear about the company suggestion scheme, which is used to collect ideas from employees and thus be able to bring them into the company.
A term that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There are a few good examples of what has come out of it. But it is not sufficient for the introduction of ideas.
Example: After there were repeated problems with an ATM or bank statement printer's operation, a trainee at a bank had the idea of displaying the image for the bank card in three dimensions. This gave the customers a spatial view of the direction in which the bank card could be read. This significantly reduced complaints at the bank counter.
In another example, a company asked its employees to consider how they could make their own company more attractive to young people. One of the responses suggested was to use the company network for LAN parties. Large training rooms with a separate system were available, and the infrastructure was robust for such - at that time quite popular - events. However, this idea was too daring for the company, and even though it was trendy among the employees, the idea was not implemented.
The question here is always how such ideas are handled. It is still the same group thinkers who decide whether an idea is good or not. As long as there is no serious discussion about the sense and nonsense of an idea, the suggestion system is invalid and mostly useless.
In my view, diversity is not an activity but an attitude towards how variety is handled in companies. If you have a broad and integrated understanding of diversity that goes far beyond individual measures, you can realize the tremendous benefits of diversity much better. The promotion of diversity is often referred to as diversity management. However, I find the term rather inappropriate because diversity should not be managed. However, the rise of diversity generates many ideas and approaches from employees. These are based on the unique personalities that ultimately result from their diverse experiences, perspectives, and competencies and, last but not least, the people's origin. Each person is unique and, as such, can make individual contributions if we let them.
What is diversity not?
There is no general answer to the question of how to implement or introduce diversity. The mere thought that there could be a single, perfect way to deal with companies' diversity would be a contradiction in itself.
Diversity management is often established for this purpose. As I said above, I'm not too fond of the term management at this point. I don't think that you can manage - i.e., control - diversity. According to the Duden dictionary, management is "the leadership, management of a large company or the like, which includes planning, fundamental decisions and issuing instructions. Management here must actually be a promotion, i.e., support for the employees. If you want to create a job that is concerned with diversity, this includes "enabling" tasks. Namely, a job stands between rigid structures and the employees so that it works in both directions. On the one hand, to enable employees to act individually and on the other hand, to use this for the further development of the organization.
Diversity is also not a quota. In the media and politics, there is always a quota as a way out of diversity. However, this shot could backfire dangerously. Percentages do not necessarily lead to the best, but only to an allocation. At the end of the day, the quota man or woman sits in the group and not the one with the best possible contribution.
And even if we would like to have it that way, because a single criterion is so beautifully simple. Diversity is - as the name suggests - diverse. And anyway, who sets the quota? Diversity means promoting individuality, not equality. Not all people are the same. They are individual - and that's a good thing. Where would we be if everyone was the same, if everyone liked the same color, drove the same car, had the same job? How boring would that be?
There is no question that equality is essential and right when it comes to how people are treated.
If we are looking for the person with the best skills for a position (in a group, a department, an organization), a quota would limit the selection in advance. Diversity goes much further than just a gender discussion. Increasing the percentage for women has nothing to do with diversity. Gender can play a role, but it does not have to. Instead, the approach to problems plays a role. After all, that is ultimately what companies do: solve problems. Otherwise, there is no raison d'être for them. It is a matter of dissolving group thinking because this places narrow limits on problem-solving. And diversity is the remedy against group thinking.
Any attempt to impose diversity by decree leads to the exact opposite, a monoculture. In organizations, the relevant dimensions can vary for individual business areas. So why limit yourself to a one-dimensional quota? The point is that the insight must prevail that heterogeneous teams produce better results.
Why do we need diversity?
Whether it is a response to market changes, a reorganization, process design, or even organizational development, most decisions are made based on what the group wants in the manager's opinion, what the managers propose, and what everyone knows about the organization and their operating environment. This is how the plan is designed, accepted, and then later put into practice. So far, so good. What happens: It fails.
What we need is an environment that encourages and promotes mental agility so that we can see problems from different perspectives, so that we can better assess complex situations, and so that we can better understand the available options that we may have.
Diversity is a great help here. A team that can think independently and takes different perspectives into account can achieve significantly better results than a team composed of the supposedly best experts.
Imagine a manager convening a meeting of key employees to develop an operational plan for the coming year. All persons working in the same environment have received a similar education, usually with excellent grades, and share everyday experiences in a hierarchical framework. The whole process seems to run smoothly. Of course, there are opinions discussed in between, but there is an adopted plan in the end.
Most decisions are made based on what the group wants in the manager's opinion, what the managers suggest, and what everyone knows about its operating environment. This is how the plan is designed, accepted, and then later put into practice. So far, so good. But then it happens: the plan fails.
I have discussed the above example several times. It is usually argued that women are not considered here (too often, the forecast/planning experts are not women) and that the team's diversification is necessary. Maybe more with a background in social sciences (not only mathematicians) would be needed. And so it is rightly doubted that the conditions are really the best.
In fact, it is just one example of the current practice and adversities of group thinking that I have observed more than once. So inappropriate leadership could be a possible reason. The question is, who is the expert? The administration has already asked the experts to develop a new strategy. Bringing in another expert would only strengthen the group thinking.
I'm not particularly keen on discussing whether we need more men, more women, or anything in between, because after all, we are all human beings. I don't believe that we are all equal. I sincerely believe that we are all equal because we have the same rights, opportunities, and the same right to education. But we are all different when it comes to feelings, experiences, ideas, creativity, and the like. This is what I understand by diversity.
So I agree that diversification is necessary, probably more than anything else. And it always scares me when people talk about best practices, the best solution, or the best solution of any kind.
As long as nobody defines the basis, we can’t argue about what is best. What we need to differentiate is what I mean by diversity. Diversity means enabling different ways of thinking, allowing different perspectives, and thus achieving better results. Empathy with the views of others is a crucial qualification that we urgently need for diversity.
The benefits of diversity
A crucial question is now: Are there concrete advantages for companies and organizations associated with diversity? In conversations, I have learned that a large majority has no doubts about this. However, if you take a closer look, it becomes clear that there is no uniform understanding of the term. This is very broad and - what a surprise - diverse. It ranges from legal requirements to societal change to greater problem-solving competence. All these points are valid, but a definition of what is meant by them is always needed. In the absence of a clear, universally valid definition, people talk at cross purposes, which in the end is destructive. For me, diversity is the key to ensuring that companies are more successful in the future, or even that they still exist. So the benefits are apparent: without diversity, sustainability is significantly reduced.
Any organization can use this benefit. For example, many military and secret services use diversity to make better decisions. Diversity is taken into account vertically (in the hierarchy) and horizontally (in skills, units, and social points). If it is possible to benefit from diversity even in the military sector, why should it not be possible in public or private contexts?
How can we implement this?
An implementation is always the difference between the actual and the target state. Therefore, execution is also measurable. As a rule, an attempt is made to measure this utilizing a staff survey. I do not think so. Staff surveys only reflect one opinion, and in this case, there might be some distortions here, so that the results do not necessarily meet the expectation or - worse - exactly match it. On the other hand, the actual use of diversity is reflected in the results of the work. Therefore, I think it makes more sense to examine how diversity measures have affected the results.
Diversity is not a long-term process. To make use of variety, a few simple and basic skills are needed to achieve initial results. These can then slowly and surely grow into successful structures for months and years. It is essential to start, not to plan.
So it is always about action. The different points of view are essential here. It takes far too long for one person to grasp all possible points of view and not even know whether they have considered all of them before anything is implemented. No one is smarter than we are as a group, and that is the crux of the matter: we, as a group, we together.
There are several so-called Liberating Structures, which are easy to understand and learn and can be easily tried out in the next meeting. Examples are "No one speaks twice until everyone has spoken once" (the rule is self-explanatory) or "Think - Write - Share" (think an idea first, then write it down and then share it with the group). The latter has two advantages, especially when shared with the first rule. This way, all participants of a meeting are heard, not just the extroverts. Also, those who have an idea, who may not dare to share it because other participants are much more dominant, are heard. This is just a small example of how to make the first step. Diversity is a long journey that essentially has no end. It is crucial to stay on the ball here.
It is essential to understand that value systems, life experiences, points of view, and thought processes play an important role because this is what we want to use here. There is no one approach, no "one-size-fits-all". This is about customized solutions, just as people are individuals. Diversity has many dimensions: Gender, culture, nationality, age and sexual orientation, and many more.
It's all about making constructive use of the diversity of employees. After all, it is precisely the diversity of people in terms of their appearance, age, views, sexual orientation, or lifestyle that results in valuable cooperation. Diversity is an integral part of productivity and creativity and, last but not least, leads to innovations.
Difficult or even complex problems and tasks are best solved in a team made up of people with different knowledge and skills. This insight is not new, but too often, it is not implemented consistently. There are still too many hurdles and limits in the minds of those responsible. Only when they are willing to overcome them can a cultural change take place. This can only succeed if the comfort zone is left behind, and something new is dared. It takes many different people as well as the courage to go this way. In my experience, this works exceptionally well.
In the end, it is always the people in an organization who brings the added value. So this is the starting point for the effective promotion of diversity. Fewer rigid rules and more flexibility in everyday working life help create an environment in which diversity can also be used. Recruiting new employees based on diversity does not help if people cannot contribute individually. Workplace concepts like New Work can provide a good basis. But they are not enough on their own.
That’s why the respective managers need to commit themselves to support this approach. It is not enough for managers to tolerate diversity simply because it is a business policy. It requires the support of the employees. However, this support can often only develop over time and cannot be imposed overnight. Therefore, it must be clarified in advance what the possible reasons are for rejecting diversity. You can deal with them if there are justified objections. If it is only a matter of feeling or if one or the other ego is an obstacle, it must be dealt with differently. In any case, empathy is a vital characteristic of all managers.
For a successful introduction and implementation of diversity, the following things are needed:
- The full support of the management
- Training courses for managers and employees
- Adaptation of the working environment
- Regular feedback on development from employees and managers
- Regular further training
From my previous work, I am convinced that diversity leads to better teams and decisions and, ultimately, to better performance and results. Companies that want to be successful cannot avoid dealing intensively with variety and the promotion of diversity. Diversity begins in mind.