Why cognitive diversity is the missing link in diversity

Why cognitive diversity is the missing link in diversity

Faced with globalisation and rapid change, leadership has become a stressful, 24/7 preoccupation in which bosses suffer from cognitive overload and poor decision-making.

Although the challenges of businesses have changed, many operate as they were first established for white, middle class, middle aged men. They struggle to achieve the innovation, performance, and motivation benefits associated with cognitive diversity, the ability to learn from different points of view.

Dr Jacqui Grey, MD EMEA at NeuroLeadership Institute, spoke to us about the missing link in diversity.

“Numerous studies associate greater diversity with success. Businesses that are more racially and gender diverse tend to deliver higher sales and larger profits. Management teams with a wide range of experience and backgrounds produce more innovative products.

“But as most Boards are not diverse there is an inherent problem. Their ability to achieve cognitive diversity is hampered by unconscious biases and influences that affect behaviour and decision making.

“These include a tendency to have more empathy for people we see as [like] ourselves, to view things outside our own experience as more dangerous and to assume how we see the world is objectively true, instead of skewed by our own particular set of experiences.

“To become more diverse, businesses need to break these all too human failings and this requires organisational and personal mitigation. In recruitment, for example, leaders at every level should consider diversity in hiring decisions and push headhunters to deliver diverse shortlists.

“Neuroscientists recognise that the benefits of diversity are rarely obtained without a strong sense of inclusion. This does not only relate to minority groups. All employees can feel excluded and everyone needs to feel welcome and respected if teams are to benefit from their perspective and experience.

“Utilising IF-THEN plans help when developing new habits. A simple thought, such as ‘IF there is only one woman at the table, THEN I will ask her point of view first’, can create a new habit. With persistence, new behaviour will become automatic.

“Reducing fear of the unknown is also important. While collaboration feels like it flows more smoothly amongst homogenous groups, diverse teams, where there is sometimes more friction, are much more likely to arrive at the correct solution.

“Inclusion is all too often the missing link when it comes to diversity. Diverse teams need shared goals to become truly cohesive and people need clarity, autonomy, and recognition if they are to feel valued and accept the changes required to build better, more diverse organisations.”

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