Earlier this month, 3R Strategy hosted a webinar alongside HR leaders from Covéa Insurance on the topic of diversity, inclusion and belonging – with particular emphasis on belonging. We discussed what belonging looks and feels like, and how we can ensure that our colleagues and employees feel accepted and valued in the workplace.

The three terms, though similar, have distinct meanings that authors Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy explain as follows in their book ‘No Hard Feelings’:

  • Diversity is having a seat at the table
  • Inclusion is having a voice at the table
  • Belonging is having that voice heard

How many of us truly feel like we have a voice ­– and the opportunity to use it – in our organisations? The case for diversity in the workplace is stronger than ever, with a huge drive to ensure equal opportunities are being offered to women, the BAME community, and the LGBTQ+ community, among others. But is this enough? To drive the best performance, we need a different kind of diversity: diversity of thought.

If We All Think Alike, No One is Thinking

In recent years there’s been a big focus on unconscious bias and how to avoid it in the workplace. By hiring others who look, sound, and act the same way we do, we simply encourage the circulation of the same opinions, ideas, and processes.

In theory, this may work just fine and deliver the same results we typically expect. But minds that all think alike will arguably struggle to innovate, missing ideas that could help to grow the organisation and ensure everyone feels heard and accepted.

In Matthew Syed’s ‘Rebel Ideas’, he offers various real-life examples of groupthink in organisations that have exposed serious oversights and critical mistakes. Most notably, he uses the case of the CIA in the lead-up to the September 11th attacks. Despite several warnings that an attack on US soil was imminent, the majoritively “white, male, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans” that comprised the intelligence service shaped a cultural homogeneity, which in turn “created a vast collective blind spot”.

Syed widely argues that in more diverse groups, we often feel challenged. It’s therefore easier and more comfortable to surround ourselves with likeminded people who have likeminded opinions. But studies (like this one) have shown that groups with contrasting backgrounds and perspectives produce better results by coming up with novel solutions that would not otherwise have been conceived.

When Alistair Dennison assembled his team of codebreakers at Bletchley Park, he hired historians, crossword enthusiasts and philosophers in addition to mathematicians and logicians, in order to produce a diverse set of ideas around how to crack the enigma codes – an evidently successful strategy.

How to Encourage Diversity of Thought in the Workplace

But what does thought diversity look like in the modern workplace? How can HR teams actively seek to encourage and implement it? According to a 2013 Deloitte study by Anesa “Nes” Diaz-Uda, Carmen Medina, and Beth Schill, the application of thought diversity can be broken down into three areas:

1.     Hire Differently

Consider a new approach when interviewing potential candidates. Move away from the standard skills or experience-based questionnaire. Instead, try a task-based problem-solving exercise or focus on competencies that align with your organisation’s vision and values.

If you only consider people with the same educational or vocational background, you may miss out on fresh perspectives. That’s not to say that CVs and qualifications shouldn’t be taken into consideration, but they shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all.

2.     Manage Differently

One of the key drivers behind thought diversity is the leadership. It’s all too easy for managers to – perhaps subconsciously – assemble a team that thinks the same, acts the same, and rarely challenges the status quo. Thought diversity requires leaders to actively put people with different backgrounds and skillsets together.

Managers are encouraged to become ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’ and allow individuals to explore new ideas and processes – even if they may lead to failure. Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors from 1923 to 1946, once famously closed a senior executive meeting by saying: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone nodded. He continued: “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”

Similarly, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Buzzfeed News Editor, once said: “If everyone on my team is constantly agreeing with me, I’ve made a series of terrible hiring mistakes.”

3.     Advance Differently

Recognition is an integral part of maintaining a motivated workforce and ensuring they feel rewarded for their efforts. But where emphasis is often placed on individual achievements and progression, organisations looking to foster thought diversity should focus instead on the accomplishments of the team. Using team-based evaluation frameworks, employees are encouraged to collaborate with others and come up with new solutions.

Diversity is Our Greatest Weapon Against Obsolescence

As the Deloitte study suggests, organisations must “let go of the idea that there is one right way” and instead focus on “creating a learning culture where people feel accepted, are comfortable contributing ideas, and actively seek to learn from each other”.

Of course, it is important to continue diversifying our workforces by hiring a variety of people with inherent differences such as race, gender and sexual orientation. But diversity isn’t two-dimensional. Acquired or cognitive diversity, such as experience working abroad and exposure to different cultures, also has much to contribute to our success.

As Margaret Heffernan, CEO and author of ‘Wilfully Blind’ writes: “Diversity isn’t a form of political correctness, but an insurance policy against internally generated blindness that leaves institutions exposed and out of touch”.

Written by Sarah Humphreys


3R Strategy is an independent reward consultancy helping organisations to build a culture of trust through pay transparency. Book a free discovery call with us today.