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Gender equity, diversity and thinking preferences

by | Apr 4, 2021

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Simply hiring more women doesn’t solve the issue of gender equity in the workplace. Diversity without inclusion leads to burnout, turnover, a lack of parity and other challenges like those we’re seeing at an even more intensified level as a result of the pandemic.

Naturally, the conversation around diversity in the workplace has become even more prevalent as of late. When we talk about gender equity, we are inclined to take a closer look at how our workplaces operate. One of the primary questions becomes: Does the inclusion of more women in leadership mean better outcomes?

As is true for most things, the answer isn’t exactly clear-cut. Let’s unpack the conversation and explore the power in diversity of thought.

The diversity debate

Okay, that subhead is a bit misleading. There isn’t really a debate about whether or not diversity is a good thing in 2021. The conversation centres more on the kind of diversity we need to focus on.

According to a review of board performances by the Wharton School, gender diversity has no impact on company performance. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the push for more women in leadership spaces is flawed.

The review posits that the women appointed to corporate boards may not be very different from the men in respect of their values, backgrounds, and knowledge. It’s differences in thinking rather than differences in gender that increase diversity and, as a result, performance.

Diverse thinking and gender equality have become one and the same in the minds of many concerned with these issues, and a considerable number of leaders believe that simply getting women into the mix will solve their diversity problems. But giving attention only to the skin deep elements of diversity is a mistake.

Demographics may be one group of predictors of diverse thinking but there are many others. If we don’t get beyond the stereotypes of what diverse thinking is, who diverse thinkers are and how best to encourage them to have different views and perspectives, we will never affect tangible change.

The key to improved performance rests on a diversity of thought. In order to link diversity to business results, we must think beyond race, gender, and ethnicity.

Introducing diversity of thought

As the name implies, different people think in different ways. Diversity of thought isn’t just about background, experiences and opinions, although all of those factors tend to play a part. Fundamentally, it’s about the differences people have in how they prefer to think.

An easy way to understand this is through the Herrmann Whole Brain® Model, a four-quadrant metaphorical model of the brain. The model shows how thinking falls into four preference clusters that we all have access to. It’s like your thinking system, comprised of four different thinking ‘selves’.

The Whole Brain Thinking Model

The four-colour quadrant graphic and Whole Brain® are registered trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC. ©2015 Herrmann Global, LLC  

You have a team of these four thinking selves available to you, but if you’re like most of us, you probably prefer some of them over others. Like a sports team, you have your go-to players that you send out the majority of the time, while others sit on the bench.

When we talk about diversity of thought, we’re talking about this diversity of thinking preferences. Each of the four preferences – analytical, experimental, relational and structural – contribute value to the business. You can’t run an organisation and remain successful over the long term without all of this thinking in play and, often, in very specific ways. From our database of more than two million thinkers, we can even identify patterns of thinking that are common in particular occupations.

Why does diversity of thought contribute to business performance?

At work, we need diversity of thought and ideas to solve tough problems and make smart decisions. Leaning into diversity of thought comes with surprising rewards.

You get new ideas. You get to relax and ask questions instead of trying to control the conversation. You get to step inside the mind and heart of other people and see the world through their eyes. You get to move beyond ‘either-or’ to ‘and’ –  the place where you discover unexpected connections between ideas. Most of all, you get to learn and enjoy better relationships.

The diversity of thought within organisations is one of the best resources available for thriving in the modern business world. This has been proven through our work with thousands of businesses around the globe facing critical business challenges.

“One thing that comes through from a large number of the contributors is how ‘diversity’ is about contributing different ways of thinking; getting beyond traditional mindsets and thinking about how the future will be different from the past,” explains Philip Chronican, Director of the BNZ and National Australia Bank Boards.

“Diversity of background, mindset and life experience is what is needed for organisations to benefit from new ways of thinking. Importantly though, there needs to be an openness to different views to fully leverage this benefit.”

Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective; they consider more options and make better decisions. Research by Herrmann also found that when faced with a complex challenge, whole-brained teams were 66 per cent more efficient than homogeneous teams.

How can you ensure you embrace a spectrum of thinkers?

So, difference in a group can lead to better problem solving and decision making as well as more innovative ideas – but it’s not just as simple as putting diverse people on a team and seeing what comes out of it.

From a thinking preference standpoint, we know that when a team has representation from across the thinking spectrum, each person will approach problems quite differently. This is a huge benefit to the staff, but only if they recognise each others’ preferences and how they each add value.

Honouring different thinking approaches will allow every member to share their thinking and ideas openly. Once that openness occurs, the team’s creativity begins to flourish. This is because they become motivated to take advantage of the different thinking styles rather than viewing them as obstacles. And as a foundation for a discussion about diversity, thinking gives people a non-judgmental starting point. It’s not about behaviours, personalities or other attributes; this is just how someone prefers to process information.

If the process isn’t managed properly, the team can devolve into unproductive conflict, frustration and chaos.

Particularly in the case of highly diverse groups, an effective leader or facilitator is essential. The most successful team leaders value the differences on the team and encourage people to bring their best thinking to work. This helps to both bridge the diversity of thought in the group and keep the Whole Brain® in mind so all perspectives are heard.

Here’s what we’ve learned about setting up a diverse team for success:

  • The more mentally diverse a group is, the more they need a multi-dominant facilitator/leader. Agile team leaders are critical for managing and leveraging difference on the team.
  • Heterogeneous groups can be extremely creative and successful OR they can “crash” because they haven’t taken the steps and time necessary to find synergy.
  • Stereotyping of others is a major impediment to team development (he’s a “this” or she’s a “that”).
  • Because cultural differences can make working as a team even more challenging, process time and consistent communication are even more important.
  • Virtual teams need a common language even more than co-located teams to increase the speed of relationship building and decrease miscommunication

Using the Whole Brain® Model as a framework to guide a team’s actions can reshape the entire meeting or task for the better. At the beginning of a project, or periodically throughout the team’s engagement, ask questions from each quadrant, such as:

  • BLUE: Do we have clear performance goals, objectives and measurements?
  • GREEN: Do we have clear priorities, a plan and a timeline?
  • RED: Do we have an understanding of our “customer” and each other?
  • YELLOW: Are we taking appropriate risks to challenge ourselves and come up with new ideas?

Remember: Successful teams practice ‘creative contention’. Getting great results from a team isn’t just about everyone getting along or coming to quick agreement.

In fact, when the problems are complex, or we need to push the boundaries for innovation, creative abrasion can make all the difference.

Interested in learning more about Whole Brain® Thinking and how it can help your team reach its full potential? Get in touch with Herrmann today.

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