What happens when you think of workplace diversity? You probably think of it as something you can actually see or identify with — for instance, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and so on. Basically, all the things that modern workplaces are striving to increase.
Now that we are in the 2020s, it is not surprising to see organizations slowly and steadily creating and promoting vibrant and creative teams to reflect the diversity of the people the business offerings try to reach.
Moreover, despite the progress being made by companies, three out of five employees still witness or experience discrimination based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. Naturally, the focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) has never been more pressing.
A Gartner survey found that 85% of leaders rank organizational inclusion as the most critical talent outcome of their D&I efforts.
They are making a special effort to ensure that even the marginalized groups in the workplace are given a fair chance to apply for the job and be promoted. However, there is another type of workplace diversity that employers should focus on: cognitive diversity.
The need for cognitive diversity in the workplace
Before we go on to explain what makes it a critical aspect of the workplace, let us first understand the cognitive diversity definition. Simply put, the term refers to bringing together people with different ideas and thought patterns.
It also includes culturally-acquired ways of thinking, which result from lived experiences in various regional, class, or racial communities.
Cognitive diversity benefits organizations on many levels, including operational processes and the functioning of the workforce itself, which impacts its overall growth and success.
Employees with varying degrees of expertise bring forth different perspectives to solve common work problems swiftly and come up with more effective solutions than if they worked in silos. The following research also supports the need for cognitive diversity:
- According to Harvard Business Review, cognitively diverse teams can solve problems faster and that leads to higher productivity.
- Gartner predicts that 75% of organizations with a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets through 2022.
- Deloitte also reports that cognitively and demographically diverse teams can help identify and reduce risks by 30% and also enhance innovation by 20%.
Organizations are taking an employee centric-approach to create sustainable D&I practices, focusing on promoting employee ownership through communication plans and what is relevant to their unique employee base.
They are restrategizing hiring processes to ensure a diverse workplace filled with people who bring different perspectives to solving problems creatively and achieving the best results possible for themselves and the company.
You will find many workplace diversity examples nowadays because many organizations are doing their bit to embrace D&I. IBM, for instance, hires individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The company firmly believes that neurodiversity helps improve productivity — an HBR article is a testament to that.
IBM is attempting to strengthen its efforts and head to a stage where neurodiverse hiring merges seamlessly with its standard hiring process. It can tap into talent sources that are often overlooked, fill the growing skills gap, and enhance company culture.
How to promote cognitive diversity scenarios in the workplace
If you are asked to define cognitive diversity, you would probably say it is the ability to think outside traditional boundaries and bring forth fresh ideas into the workplace. That is correct!
Cognitive diversity is heavily influenced by logical thinking and emotional intelligence. Of course, these vary depending on employee personalities. But pairing logic with principles-based opinions leads to high-level thinking and strategy and pave the way for innovation.
For example, individuals with a knack for numbers might make great decisions based on data analysis, while others with excellent communication skills may find creative solutions. So when your organization is facing tricky problems, both abilities can be used in tandem.
Similarly, dual-skilling is the key to finding a workable balance. Employees with different skill sets can use their strengths in different ways. It can help prevent employee burnout and keep things interesting in your organization.
However, it is crucial to be aware that most people gravitate towards those who think and express themselves in a similar way, and recruiters tend to recruit in their own image. As a result, organizations end up with like-minded employees.
To change this, you must take specific steps that allow you to benefit from a diverse workforce. Here is how you can get started:
1. Direct your hiring efforts to build a diverse team
Be intentional in seeking employees with diverse thinking styles and approaches. There are not many organizations actively looking to strengthen their workforce skill mix. You have to change how you recruit and change those practices.
Challenging assumptions on the criteria for success or fitment in a specific role is an excellent place to start. Recruiters (or team managers for whom hiring is being done) often seek talent based on their "pedigree" for a role.
For instance, they might prefer candidates with a degree from a particular college. Or they might unconsciously prefer one gender over the other. The interviewers' experiences and perceptions related to cultures, stereotypes and social norms can also skew the hiring process.
They do not realize that the presence of diverse employees will help your organization grow by pushing it to become more efficient at achieving its goals. Diverse teams foster innovation, dynamism, and creativity — driving success for years down the line.
Instead, leaders should ask, "What are the pain points we need to solve, and what are the backgrounds, capabilities, and experiences we must possess to address these challenges in new ways?" It might not fit every job role, but it can be an excellent application in most scenarios.
For instance, if you are a healthcare company, recruiting tech professionals, digital app developers, and hospitality specialists can help you revamp patient engagement, improving outreach. You gain higher levels of cognitive diversity in the workplace.
Rather than seeking out opinions from just one source or viewpoint, you promote group thinking and gain well-rounded perspectives, leading teams onto new paths for innovation. Moreover, employees involved also feel as if they are contributing to something bigger!
2. Remove unconscious bias while hiring
Psychometric testing helps assess the thought processes and approaches of potential employees during the hiring process.
For example, conduct situational judgment tests designed specifically to see how a person responds to various realistic workplace scenarios. The results will give insight into how they react under pressure or when they receive feedback from their manager.
Stimulate their creativity by giving them the freedom to come back with an answer that best applies to any given work situation. Such tests help you spot people with varying personality traits or attitudes who have the potential to introduce a new perspective.
Combine situational tests with other psychometric and personality assessments to better understand what the candidate can offer to the role.
This can also help you eliminate unconscious interviewer bias ensuring fair and equal opportunities to applicants, regardless of their age, race, or sex. The hiring decisions you make based on these tests are driven by merit, and you are able to find the best person for the job.
Use a candidate-friendly skill assessment tool like Adaface to reduce your time to hire and cost per hire. More importantly, remove interviewer bias from the hiring process by testing the candidates on their ability without regarding where they worked before or studied.
By keeping assessments anonymous and judging solely based on merit, you can eliminate most forms of bias and build a diverse workforce.
3. Create space to innovate and collaborate
Suppose you want the promotion of cognitive diversity to stick in your workplace. In that case, you must ensure the latter is always full of engaged, creative employees by allowing them to express their thoughts and communicate their ideas.
Also, please ensure constant interaction between employees and leaders to see how both parties can mutually benefit.
For instance, using the valuable insights from such conversations can help you strategize employee personal development and give birth to a unique approach to handle complex challenges your industry faces.
Work environments are more fluid now than ever, which will continue to hold true. Take advantage of that with a "no lines" approach for solving complex issues and strengthening cognitive diversity.
At the end of the day, your organization will be better placed for creating and surviving disruptive innovation in your area of expertise.
Unlock the power of cognitive diversity with robust technologies
We all have our own approach to solving problems. While we may think that differences in people's backgrounds do not affect the way they resolve challenges, the reality varies for each individual based on their cultural, economic, and social past.
It is essential to have a diverse pool of employees for businesses to gain insights from all perspectives in the modern workforce. Cognitive diversity means these differences are leveraged to find strategic responses to crucial business questions.
It provides equal expression to all employees and guides their growth path. However, although cognitive diversity may sound complex, certain technologies are available for achieving cognitively diverse workplaces easier than ever before.
1. Diversity-focused recruitment and employee management platforms
Hiring a demographically diverse workforce is the first step towards achieving cognitive diversity in your organization. AI coupled with organizational psychology can help you achieve the best results by removing all forms of discrimination from your hiring efforts.
For instance, Plum, a talent assessment platform, uses Machine Learning to provide hiring recommendations without any bias. It also ensures protected groups like women or people with disabilities are not left out when assessing talent.
2. Design thinking tools for easy collaboration
Design thinking is not just for the creative types. It is essentially a problem-solving approach specific to design, which involves assessing known aspects of a problem. It can benefit everyone, especially those looking to encourage cognitive diversity within their organization.
You see, design thinking enables strategic decision-making, even if you do not have a high degree of technical skills. There are tools that can help you collect ideas and feedback from multiple sources and store practical approaches as reusable templates.
You can also build global communities around shared challenges, expanding the limits of cognitive diversity outside your workplace.
3. Recruitment portals for scouting top-tier freelancers
Enhance the cognitive diversity of your company by onboarding freelancers. That is a great way to infuse new blood with unique experience in multiple sectors, cultures, and technologies into the organization.
Platforms like Toptal enable you to access top-tier talent, for example, project managers and coders, from across the globe. This way, you can also let employees experience various leadership styles.
4. AI-powered cognitive collaboration suite
Augmented Intelligence leverages AI to give people access to the correct data at just the right time. It significantly improves collaboration by equipping every individual in the workplace with the requisite tools and information.
As a result, every employee is empowered to bring out their best in a conversation (or project). Augmented Intelligence maximizes their potential and promotes a mindset of progressive collaboration. All employees feel heard and understood.
For example, Cisco's cognitive collaboration solutions utilize the technology to drive conversations through context. They cover intelligent workspaces, virtual collaborations, and other essentials necessary for solving business pain points with diverse contributions.
Wrapping it up
Besides hiring diverse teams, you must cultivate an environment where conflicting viewpoints are welcomed and such a workforce is able to sustain in the long-run. Therefore, please ensure all your employees feel they are being listened to with respect, and their contribution matters.
Building a workplace where healthy conflict and dissent are welcomed will take time. Leaders must recognize and embrace the importance of cognitive diversity for change to happen quickly enough. Employees should understand how they can go a long way by listening to each other.
With the right vision, approach and tech stack, achieving cognitive diversity in your workplace is a dream waiting to turn into reality. All the best!