When it comes to my work, I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world because of the team that I have around me. For being a small team, we are diverse in so many ways. You name it and there’s a chance that we represent a diverse mix: race, gender, upbringing, political stance, religion, living situations, locations, and skills. Diversity of thought isn’t something we have to try for, it just simply “is”. And I believe that as a company, we are better because of it. But even more, as a human, I believe that I am better because of it.
In my work as a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist® and mental health speaker, I have seen the way that diversity of thought can transform an organization. And I have also seen the way that a lack of thought diversity can poison the inner workings of a company.
And while Diversity & Inclusion have been heavily in the conversation for the past year, I can’t help but think that the focus is being placed on the wrong thing. We can use cancel culture to try to scare organizations and people into being more “inclusive”, but isn’t that really just bullying?
So instead of focusing on trying to force organizations to hit a certain percentage of hired minority groups, wouldn’t we all be better off if we focused on how diverse representation betters us all as a whole?
What is diversity of thought?
In the simplest explanation, diversity of thought is simply the fact that people think differently. Having diversity of thought in an organization would mean that you have people who think differently and may have different perspectives because of it.
Diversity of thought is not just about race or gender. Those are the two groups that tend to be associated the most with the idea, but it’s so much more than that. I believe that we weaken the power of diversity of thought by believing that if we simply add a few people who look different to the table, we are achieving the desired result.
When we make that assumption, we’re essentially saying that all people of these certain minority groups think the same. If we put a black person at the table, all black voices are represented. If we put a woman at the table, then all female voices are represented. And if we have a white male at the table, all white men are accounted for. That’s nothing short of ridiculousness!
Diversity of thought is so much deeper than this. It’s not based simply on what race we are, what gender we were born or what side of town we grew up on. Within each “group” there is amazing diversity that is just waiting to be embraced!
Why do we need diversity of thought at the table?
Here’s a saying that you’ve probably heard before: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
That’s why diversity of thought matters. If you only talk to people who think the same way that you think, you’re missing out on so much.
How can you learn all the things that you don’t know if you don’t talk to people who know them? How can you gain a better understanding of the needs of diverse people if you don’t hear from them directly?
If you only surround yourself with people who have had all the same experiences as you, even if they are of a different race or gender, there’s a good chance that you’ll probably have very similar opinions. But when you open the door to diverse conversations, your world begins to expand.
That doesn’t mean your opinions will change, but if you allow yourself to really listen to diverse thoughts, you’ll gain a greater perspective and understanding.
How to cultivate diversity of thought in your organization.
Diversity of thought doesn’t just happen. You need to know the right strategies to experience the true benefits of this experience. Here are a few tips that can help:
1. Bring someone different into the conversation
If you’re a Democrat, talk to a Republican. If you’re an artist, talk to a mathematician. Do you believe that your company should jump into a new market? Talk to someone in the organization who disagrees.
Diversity of thought can apply to ANY and EVERY conversation. There is not one topic under the sun that everyone agrees on.
Be intentional about these conversations. If you’re sitting at the board table and notice that everyone at the table is always agreeing, it’s a good indication that you need to make some changes as to who is at the table. Pull up some extra chairs.
2. Always be curious
If you need an example of how to do this, talk to a small child. They are notorious for asking “why” all the time. They don’t just want to know the answer to a question, they want to understand the reason behind it.
If you want real diversity of thought on your team, it’s not just about bringing diverse people and thoughts into the conversation. It’s about working to understand where those thoughts are coming from.
When you have these conversations, they cannot be allowed to remain at surface level. No new information is revealed when you stay here. Ask the right questions to get to the root of why they have the opinions they do. This is when you start to gain a new perspective as you listen to the stories and experiences of others.
3. Be respectful
Remember, I have a diverse team. For example, my content director is a white woman from a small Midwest town. I’m a black man living in NYC. We had some incredible conversations around race relations and social justice throughout 2020. Sometimes we had the same opinions, and sometimes we didn’t. But we both came out ahead because we were willing to listen to and learn from one another.
The reason this was able to happen is that we respected one another during the conversations. If I had said something to show that I disagreed with her constantly, eventually we would have reached a point where she wouldn’t have been comfortable sharing anymore. And the same would have been true for me.
When you bring people into a conversation together who don’t all agree, it’s important to have boundaries and ground rules in place to keep it a safe place for diversity of thought. As soon as one person is allowed to push the boundary, you lose the opportunity to benefit from diverse thinking.
Take the first step
Achieving diversity of thought is actually very simple. The first step is to bring someone into the conversation who has a different view than you with the intention of seeing what you can learn from them. It truly is that simple. I’ll leave you with this quote from Richard Witt, Executive Director, Rural and Migrant Ministry, “When we come together as learners rather than teachers, we create more together.”
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