Diversity is an interesting word that can immediately spark an emotive response. However, diversity not only refers to differences in race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organisational function, education and background, but also perceptions.
How do you ‘see’ yourself and others? It is actually these very differences that, when embraced, build businesses and individuals. It is the thinking process that 3+3=6 and so does 4+2, and 5+1 etc. Yes, these differences can cause division and be counter-productive but, if left unmanaged, can be much more damaging.
The first step in harnessing the power of diversity lies in drawing attention to how your team perceives each other. Stereotyping causes us to typify a person, a group, an event or a thing using perceptions, beliefs or opinions and can substitute open-mindedness.
As an entrepreneur, you should encourage your staff to identify and challenge thinking and actions based on stereotypes continuously.
Related: How to help your team appreciate the benefits of your business’ cultural diversity
Your team needs to be open-minded about each other and focus on the positive contributions each person makes to the workplace. The best team players are those who display a supportive and positive manner. Encourage this behaviour in your employees, but know that many prejudices are a lifetime in the making; you will not break down these walls overnight.
Give a voice
You cannot take full advantage of diversity if your employees do not have a voice. They need to have the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas to peers and managers.
Review your organisational culture. Does it offer opporuntity for employees to speak their minds, to debate problems and possible solutions openly? You need to foster an environment where people listen to each other in a mutually respectful way and where you implement relevant changes suggested by your team. Create discussion and brainstorm sessions where all are equal and not led by the leader.
Journey of discovery
Encourage your staff to find things they have in common. We are naturally social and are drawn to those who are similar to and feel warmer towards those we have the most in common with. Finding common ground is the basis of every successful working relationship.
Start by playing a game: ask staff members to partner with another person in the business (perhaps someone they usually struggle with or someone they have just begun working with) and to try to find out five things they have in common. Offer a prize to the pair who discovers the most unusual commonality.
Encourage teams to work across disciplines when an opportunity presents itself. This could be a project, a community activity or simply an office clean up. It’s neutral territory and therefore levels the playing field.
Related: Why Donna Rachelson believes the secret to your business success lies with women
You can further ward-off resistance to diversity in the workplace by involving every employee possible in operational decisions.
Inclusion breaks down barriers and gives employees a sense of value. You should try to foster an environment where all ideas and suggestions are considered and measured on their merit. This may simply be communicating a decision to the affected party or team before the rest of the company. This way, your employees are empowered to come to their managers with their suggestions that can help solve problems.
Encouraging thinking in your business is a good way to tap into the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Yes, democracy has a price and certainly slows and complicates decision-making processes. However, choose wisely as the leader, as you know the urgency and importance of very decision. Letting go a few of these will simply allow others to stand up.