The Advantages and Challenges of Leading a Diverse Workforce

di·ver·si·ty.  A noun.  The state of being diverse; variety.

The Advantages and Challenges of Leading a Diverse Workforce

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When thinking about corporate culture today, diversity is a word that is sure to come to mind. From creating high-level positions — according to Google, approximately 20% of Fortune 500 companies now employ diversity officers — to weaving the term into a mission statement or list of core values, organizations big and small are developing strategies and tactics to ensure they recruit and nurture a diverse workforce.

Simply put, a diverse workforce includes people with different characteristics. These differences may be generational, cultural or racial. They are sometimes based on spiritual or religious beliefs, or they may be based on previous work and world experiences. The concept of diversity itself is, well, diverse.

Regardless of the definition, the benefits of diversity in the workplace are well documented. An article in the Harvard Business Review from November 2016, “Why Diverse Teams are Smarter,” identified three specific areas in which diverse teams are stronger. According to the article:

They Focus More on Facts
Diverse teams are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective. They often encourage greater scrutiny of each member’s actions, keeping their joint cognitive resources sharp and vigilant.

They Process Those Facts More Carefully
Scientists believe that diverse teams may outperform homogenous teams in decision making because they process information more carefully and consider the perspectives of outsiders.

They Are More Innovative
Hiring individuals who do not think, look or talk like you can allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking.

The business case for diversity is unquestionable. While diversity has found its way out of the HR function and into a position of prominence throughout organizations, those in the C-suite should be thoughtful and deliberate as they calibrate their approach to their teams.

As Solaris Water Midstream Chief Operating Officer & Chief Commercial Officer Amanda Brock put it, “The corporate dynamic is fundamentally changing, so management styles must change too.”

Amanda believes leaders need to be aware that diverse groups of people often value different things. This can manifest itself in many ways in working relationships. Communication styles, incentive structures and feedback mechanisms should all be examined to ensure they are not counterproductive for different groups. Working to refine the organization’s approach to these areas is critical. A one-size-fits-all mindset may result in the kind of homogeneity that can lead to stagnation.

“The issue is there will be stagnation, lack of continued innovation and a workforce that is not fully engaged or participating,” Amanda says. “If we lose that input, the corporation itself will suffer and ultimately be less competitive in its sector.”

Luis Rodriguez, CEO of Raisa Energy, has very purposefully built a firm where diversity of thought is considered a fundamental driver of success. Luis believes varied perspectives are positive for the growth of the business, but he recognizes they can also create what he calls “constructive heat.”

“Vetting out difference of opinion is essential to developing new ideas and continuously improving, but it can also create anxiety for those involved. At Raisa we do a lot of things to build trust and a common basis of understanding amongst different constituencies,” Luis says.

In addition to providing leaders with tools like executive coaching and mandating communication vehicles like regular one-on-one meetings with all teams, Luis believes strongly in the importance of language when it comes to harnessing constructive heat.

“Diversity of opinion and challenging each other is a way of generating more powerful solutions,” Luis says. “But we can create a language to improve those interactions. For example, reacting to a colleague by saying ‘you don’t want to discuss this’ assumes you know your colleague’s motives. Alternatively, if you say ‘I feel like you don’t want to discuss this’ you are clarifying your own emotions allowing both parties to move forward from a more neutral place.”

He continues, “It may be as simple as knowing that very few things are black and white, knowing we all see things through our own lens and express our views differently. If we can share a common language of understanding that allows us to both express and contextualize our emotions, it lowers the barriers to debate and enables more productive conversations.”

Diversity in the workplace is now widely considered mission-critical, and strong leaders are addressing the challenges and reaping the benefits.


Next month we will reprise our article on “Gratitude in Action” and showcase what some of our clients and colleagues have done to give back in 2019.