How diversity can boost productivity

How diversity can boost productivity

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In diving down an internet rabbit hole one afternoon recently, I found myself reading about the link between plant diversity and ecosystem productivity. With my work hat on, I wondered whether the same was true of teams in the workplace; intuitively it does makes sense, so I did a bit more digging.

In diving down an internet rabbit hole one afternoon recently, I found myself reading about the link between plant diversity and ecosystem productivity. With my work hat on, I wondered whether the same was true of teams in the workplace; intuitively it does makes sense, so I did a bit more digging. As it turns out, there is plenty of research to suggest that more diverse teams are indeed more productive. This is almost certainly common knowledge among HR professionals, and yet often when diversity enters a conversation about hiring, it is often discussed as an end in itself rather than something of instrumental value to the performance of the team.

So what are the mechanisms driving this, and how can hiring managers and HR teams ensure they are making it easy for themselves to find excellent, diverse, team members?

Why diversity boosts productivity

The most obvious productivity booster comes from new ideas and ways of working, with team members from different backgrounds, cultures or life experiences preventing stagnation with their fresh perspectives. New ideas and methods of problem-solving lead to more creative approaches to new and existing problems, improving efficiency and effectiveness of team activity.

Cindy Gallop, an advertising consultant and diversity champion, said with regard to the advertising industry: “It is an absolute god-damned outrage there isn’t enough black talent. I am gobsmacked that white male executive creative directors aren’t falling over themselves to hire people with disabilities. People with disabilities have to hack life every day they are some of the most creative people you will ever come across.” The same thinking should be applied across all industries: without creativity, organisations will lack meaningful innovation; without diversity, they restrict their pool of creativity.

A more indirect, but equally important, link comes from the simultaneous widening of the talent pool and the increased attractiveness of the employer proposition to those potential candidates. In having a diverse team, a company is signalling to would-be applicants from underrepresented groups, whether in terms of race, ethnicity, class background, sexual orientation or gender, that the company is inclusive and less likely to practice employment discrimination. And it’s simple mathematics that the wider the talent pool, the more top-calibre individuals there are to choose from.

Of course, it’s not just the underrepresented groups that benefit from team diversity; even discounting productivity, every team member is more likely to enjoy a working environment that is more open, inclusive and creative. Retention thus benefits, boosting productivity further…

How to attract more diverse candidates

When our clients ask us for advice on diversity, they often already know all of the above. The difficulty comes when they are starting, for whatever reason, from a position of having an extremely homogeneous team. How to signal inclusivity when appearances are anything but? There’s no panacea, but there are a number of things we recommend in this situation.

First, signal inclusivity in job descriptions, not just through mentioning it explicitly (though this is important), but through highlighting (and having!) policies such as flexible working, maternity leave, childcare allowances, and so on. It’s a generalisation, but rightly or wrongly it’s the case that environments perceived as welcoming to women and those with caring responsibilities tend to indicate a welcoming environment for other groups too. (As an additional boon, flexible working policies can boost productivity in themselves, but that’s another conversation).

Second, actively widen your talent pool by looking further afield than your local city. Yes, it can take a few extra weeks to hire someone from a different city or country, but in offering relocation packages, VISA sponsorship (not as difficult as many think) and even sometimes asking for additional languages, the number of potential candidates is vastly increased, and those who are underrepresented can see an open and inclusive approach in action.

Third, be mindful of the language used in a job advertisement and other company material. A job description should reflect company culture, but if you are seeking to evolve that culture, it is important to be conscious of how you might be perceived by people from different backgrounds and perspectives. As a competitive, analytically-minded woman, I was horrified when a ‘gender decoder’ flagged up words such as ‘strong’, ‘leader’, and ‘analyse’ as masculine and theoretically (and sadly, empirically) off-putting to women. Following such recommendations to the letter, for example replacing ‘masculine’ words with more neutral or ‘feminine’ alternatives (‘team’, ‘collaborate’, ‘connect’, ‘friendly’, apparently) would obviously be neither practical nor sensible. It would be anything but constructive, for example, to describe a role requiring high levels of competitiveness and resilience as being set in a collaborative, supportive and friendly environment.

That being said, language is important, and a tool such as a gender decoder can be useful as a reminder to keep things neutral where they should be. Even better, asking someone else to review your job description with a fresh pair of eyes is the easiest way to find ways to keep it as inclusive and attractive to varied demographics as possible. The importance of doing this well is backed up by the data – we see huge improvements in relevance and diversity of applications when we’ve put time and effort into optimising a client’s job post rather than using the first draft we are sent, which is why we spend so much time as a team working on job descriptions.


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