First, What Is Diversity?
Before we start to think about cognitive diversity, let’s talk about the generalized definition of diversity. Historically, and legally, diversity has, in general, only included those that could be pushed aside or harassed. These groups tended to be identified as an ethnic background or sex. The classical definition of workplace diversity focused on the idea that companies needed to expand their hiring practices to include more women and people of color. Things have improved, to some degree.
Workplace diversity statistics show that over the past decade women in leadership roles has increased by 20%. That is significant, though only a start to full inclusion. However, it is safe to say that people of color are highly undervalued and highly underrepresented in positions of leadership within the corporate structures.
What Is Bias?
However, the definition of diversity needs to change because the idea of bias is changing. Why is it changing? As our social values evolve so does our society. New ways to identify ourselves allow others to use that identity against us and to discriminate against us in the workforce. The prior generations are statistically less likely to be open to more levels of inclusion. Think this is wrong? Spend five minutes in a Facebook chat room about politics. You will get a clear picture of the social disparity between older generations and Millennials or Gen X.
As workers age out of the work force the younger more diverse workforce moves in. Over the past 10 years 20% of white workforce has left to be replaced by a more diverse workforce. These generally tend to be made up of the Millennials or Gen X crowd. Younger generations are expanding the definition of identity and subsequently bias and diversity to include age, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
If you view diversity as a fluid concept, then you can see how hard it would be for rigid business to cope with a sea of change. Difficulty in applying inclusive business practices isn’t an excuse. The fact that businesses are having a hard time become diverse is actually a sign that they haven’t fully embodied the idea of diversity. Diversity isn’t just about background it is about having a different perspective on the world.
How Does A Business Grow?
Let’s do a thought experiment to dig into cognitive diversity. Think about running a greeting card company. I am sure you can think of a big one that happens to own their own TV network. Say you have been employing old white men for generations to write cute cards of varying purpose. However, you recognize that the majority of your customers are actually Latino. What do you do? You don’t want to lose your market share and you want to improve on your attraction to the Latino market. So, you make the decision to hire 5 artists that are American but whose grandparents came from Spain. Is this a diversity hire? What if their skin is dark olive in color? Surely, they can connect to the Latino crowd. You couldn’t be more wrong.
First, Spaniards are Hispanic, not Latino. Second, is it really about the color of the skin? No. Color doesn’t denote diversity. Background denotes diversity. Diversity is more than just the color of your skin or what is under those cloths. It is the idea that people of different backgrounds, experiences, and histories are allowed to participate in a company and help improve it. The better hire would be to find people intimately experienced in Latino culture, obviously. Regardless of the color of their skin, to grow your Latino appeal, your company would need to hire someone who cognitively understands the diversity present in the market. See where this is going?
How Can Diversity Include Cognitive Diversity?
So, cognitive diversity is the idea that gender, sex, age, ethnicity, race, and age don’t in and of themselves produce benefits to a business. It is the idea of physical diversity that is coupled with a diverse mental framework that will lead to team growth and improved success. If you all thought exactly the same would your results be any different? No, they wouldn’t. No one really wants a “yes” man and no one really wants to be a “yes” man. Rather, we grow when we are appropriately challenged and pushed to be better than who we are today.
The business world is no different. Don’t fill your ranks with yes men. You need to not only improve on the physical diversity but also the mental diversity of your workforce to truly see improvements in performance and development.