Managing Diversity

The head of HR of a digital ad agency recently expressed to me their need to manage diversity. Whether it’s a client base with diverse consumers, or the reality of an everchanging workforce, diversity is here to stay. Managing it is multi-faceted. And as my HR contact knows, having a workforce that is varied in gender, ethnicity, generation, personality or workstyle is only part of the challenge. Without common ground differences tend to divide, and the benefit of diversity is lost.

As a coach, not a recruiter, I see diversity from the perspective of personal interaction. To really harness the strength in diversity, there needs to be trust. And trust depends on people’s willingness to be vulnerable and focus on what connects them. Here are some exercises and thoughts:

  • Within your team, ask each individual to share: their Hometown? Number of siblings? Interesting childhood hobbies? Biggest challenge growing up? First job? The exercise works best if you know a bit about each person from a Myers-Briggs or other personality profile. It’s amazing how a few personal, not too personal, questions can reveal the human being in us and create intimacy that leads to a more transparent dialogue.*
  • Similar to the first, but turning up the volume. Think of someone who drives you crazy at work. Now take some time to get to know that person, to get curious about them. What did they do before this job? Where did they grow up? What kind of family do they have? What do they get excited about, or what have they achieved that they are proud of. Share something about yourself that they may not know. Notice how you feel about them once you see who they really are.**
  • Think of what you are trying to accomplish in the big picture. Who do you need to work effectively with to achieve what you want? Being flexible can be tough. If managing diversity as a tool for achieving results, not just an end in itself, it can be a great motivator.
  • And finally, focus on the work. Tuesday night I attended a panel discussion for The Glass Hammer. The panelists overwhelmingly agreed that, when you are the odd one out, prove yourself by being knowledgable and focusing on results, and you are much more likely to be included.

Study after study has shown that organizations with greater diversity, especially at the top, enjoy better results. The same is true for individuals looking for leadership positions. Give it a try, and please feel free to share your thoughts below

All the best,

*From “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.
** From Coach Training Institute, San Rafael, CA.

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