Leading an exciting tech start-up or a fast paced R&D team is tough. You work hard, for long hours, and put a lot of yourself into the project. At least you can surround yourself with likeminded people, and ensure you have a fun team dynamic to keep everyone sane and motivated, right?
Wrong. Sadly, too many entrepreneurs, managers and even candidates think like that. However, while it’s not unreasonable to want to enjoy a good relationship with the team you spend your workday with, the tendency for birds of a feather to flock together is not good for diversity, creativity or business success.
Indeed, sidelining anyone ‘different’ or ’unusual’ is not just perpetuating gender and race inequality – it is damaging business growth, stifling creativity with organizations, and weakening leadership at all levels. Oh, and it’s bad for your career too.
Where does bias in recruitment come from?
The issues surrounding recruitment bias and the subsequent undue-representation of many ethnic, national and gender groups in the workforce are well documented. Since companies and governments have rightly stepped up their efforts to tackle this problem – motivated largely by a fairness agenda – it has become clear that more forces are at work than mere blind prejudice: as humans we also suffer from a series of innate biases that mean we are more likely to hire people like ourselves, and who conform to a preconceived notion of success.
As this article in the Financial Times explains,these innate behaviors and thought patterns are so deeply ingrained, that they are resisting all attempts to combat them: studies have found that even computer programs designed to eliminate human subjectivity sometimes fail – perhaps because they learn bias from their human users or programmers. Efforts to tackle bias with diversity training also tend to fall short of achieving full representations for groups such as women and ethnic minorities.
It’s not just the fault of companies. Unfairness in the workforce also stems from society, because women, ethnic minorities and anybody deemed ‘unusual’ also tend to be sidelined in education, and get encouraged into stereotypical roles. However, as things stand it is up to employers to tackle the problem – because they need diversity more than they realize.
Diversity is a Strength
This article lists a number of proven benefits of diversity in the workplace. Altruism and fairness aside, it makes the point that businesses should aim for diversity because it is good for their bottom line.
That’s right: a lack of diversity is costing businesses money.
By failing to consider candidates with backgrounds that don’t conform to its expectations, an organization is severely curtailing its talent pool. The laws of supply and demand mean they are therefore paying more for worse workers.
It has also been shown that diverse teams make better decisions and serve the customer base more effectively because, as a team, they can relate directly to more demographics. This is particularly important in start-ups and the tech sector, where it is essential to consider all possibilities for development and market options.
Small companies in particular face skills gaps if they recruit too many similar candidates. Even if a recruit is brought in specifically to fill a need for a certain skill or knowledge that is lacking, they will ideally also bring other synergies to the team as well.
Lolly Daskal, president and CEO of Lead From Within, argues that the perfect entrepreneurial leadership team should be composed of a series of opposing personalities.In her six-strong group she calls them ‘the dreamer’, ‘the visionary’, ‘the doer’, ‘the innovator’, ‘the taskmaster’ and ’the connector’.
All these people will also have complimentary skill sets, but skills are not everything in a team. If everybody tends to think the same way because they went to the same school and have similar political views, for example, the opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking is severely curtailed.
Candidates Should Seek Diversity Too
If diversity is a business advantage, it follows that unusual candidates should see this as a marketable skill and seek to use it to the benefit of their careers.
Sadly, most are still too wary of being sidelined to trumpet their differences publicly – but one way they can turn difference into strength is by getting out of their own comfort zones and working within teams where they stand out. That way, they will have more room to work in the area they specialize in, and will more easily be able to present fresh ideas and angles that will surprise their colleagues.
Their connections, too, will be a valuable addition rather than just a widening of the already established network. And as their difference helps drive success, they will most likely come to be seen as indispensable to the company.
Diversity, therefore, benefits everyone. All we need are the tools to nullify our prejudices, and the will to build a team that draws strength from difference to become greater than the sum of its parts.