How can HR managers ensure diversity of thought in the workplace?

Diversity of opinion, personality and values can be just as vital to workplace culture and productivity as gender balance.

A survey conducted last month by Hays discovered that an overwhelming majority of Australians welcome a diverse array of voices in the workplace and embrace differences. The study, titled Staff Engagement: Ideas for action report, found that 93 percent of employees want to work in an inclusive culture where diversity of thought is valued.  

In addition, 84 percent of employers said they too value diversity of opinions and values among their staff, but 38 percent admitted they needed to address the issue.

Managing director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand Nick Deligiannis said, “Diversity of thought is starting to gain a lot of attention since a workplace that respects and encourages different ways of thinking works more innovatively to bring new ideas to the table.”

‘Diversity of thought’, though, is surely different to ‘diversity’. Diversity in the workplace may refer to striking a balance regarding gender, ethnicity, age, background, disability and more, with most organisations now cognisant of the importance of ensuring the make-up of their staff is a cross-section of the social spectrum.

But what about diversity of thought? How can an organisation ensure that a range of different personality types (introverted or extroverted and so on), social views and cultural values are represented in the workplace?
Quentin Jones, managing director of leadership consultants CLS360, believes that Australian companies assume that diversity of thought will be a natural by-product of diversity of gender, age and so on.

“Generally, Australian organisations define diversity in terms of gender, and there lies an assumption that gender diversity will necessarily deliver variance of political leaning, for example,” Jones tells HC Online.
“Whilst the research is clear that a greater number of women drives superior performance, organisations may not fully capitalise on potential diversity by only recruiting women that fit a white, Anglo, middle-class, liberal set of values. The key here is to recognise the organisation’s hidden cognitive biases embedded in their cultures, and to diversify the organisation accordingly.”

Jones adds that the pace of change in today’s workplace, and the need to continually adapt as markets and consumers evolve according to technology, an ageing population and a fluctuating economic climate, demands that organisations must have a workforce that reflects the multiplicity of contemporary society – in thought and worldview as much as background, gender, age or ethnicity.

“Organisations by their very nature attempt to optimise outcomes by efficiency, and one way of achieving efficiency is to recruit employees with similar mindsets, values and beliefs, which is okay for stable markets.

“However, in rapidly changing contexts, effectiveness in adapting to change will be determined by divergence in thinking, ideas and values.

“In nature, species adapt to environmental change by variations in their genetic make-up. Similarly, organisational change and adaptation is dependent on divergence of ideas, views and values, however uncomfortable that may be in practice.”
Jones offers a three-point guide for HR management to follow to foster diversity of thought in the workplace:
  1. “Have the right people in the room. Ensure the right mix of gender, race and personality. If your target audience is a particular demographic, ensure you have a representative group.”
  2. “Train your leaders to identify and manage their own and others’ ‘cognitive biases’. Unconscious bias severely limits what teams see and focus on. ‘Group think’ is a common outcome and will severely limit the quality of the group’s solutions.”
  3. “Develop a ‘participative’ culture. Train leaders to use facilitation methods like brain storming to maximise the quality and ownership of ideas and decisions. Participative leadership styles work by leaders sharing power, creating a sense of individual autonomy that drives engagement and contribution.”


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