By Laura Taylor
SOS Account Executive
Diversity helps build strong and effective work teams. When we think about diversity, there is often a tendency to focus on gender, age, and race. While it is certainly important and crucial to be diverse in those areas, there are other areas to consider in which to be diverse. How we work, learn, communicate, and cooperate with others all have certain levels of diversity to them.
Building a diverse team is usually one of the more difficult tasks. When we recruit and hire staff and volunteers, we often subconsciously choose candidates that look and think just like ourselves. At times, statements are made about the chosen candidates being the best fit for the team. Sometimes this means the chosen candidate looks and thinks like many of the current team members. How can this be remedied?
Understanding that we all have prejudices is a good start. From there, we can become cognizant of our actions and reactions. Start at the beginning. With each interview, be mindful of your own biases.
How We Hire
We need to be aware of our own prejudices and how that might play out when we communicate with others who are different from ourselves. There are many subconscious actions that happen and we are simply not aware they are occurring. Videoing a conversation with a potential new team member can be helpful in recognizing subtle body language actions for awareness. For example, when one agrees with a person, does he/she lean in, smile, make eye contact, shake their heads in agreement? When a person disagrees or has a different thought or receives an unexpected answer, what is his/her physical reaction? Remember, these are subtle things that we don’t always know are happening. It causes the other person to react in certain ways. Soon the whole conversation is derailed because of subconscious body language happening by both parties.
Another area where diversity in the workplace can be found is in learning a new job or skill set.
Leader and Teacher – How We Learn
There are visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners. Most of us are a combination of these three styles but probably have a preference. If you are in charge and want to be able to provide a learning component or teachable moments, you can be really effective in delivering your message by listening to and observing your would-be learners and reacting accordingly.
Here are some characteristics for each type of learner and what might be observed. This can guide a leader as to how to best communicate with each type and gain the best and productive work from each individual.
Visual learners process things better if there are pictures, graphs, diagrams, and charts. They often are good notetakers and artistic. They may have a strong sense of colors and can visualize objects at different angles.
Auditory learners might say things like, “I hear you” or “that sounds like a good idea.” They may talk to themselves and be easily distracted by noise. They may speak in rhythmic patterns and are good at repeating music. They are better at telling than writing, are talkative, and often eloquent speakers.
Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They like hands on activities and working in groups. They may be physically active and well coordinated.
How We Work
Have you ever worked with someone who drives you crazy just because of how that person works? I’m not talking about someone who is incompetent or lazy. I am referring to individuals who get the job done but in a different way than you do. As long as you are working parallel to each other, all is good.
But what happens when you have to work together on a committee or a project? If you can work through it, the relationship will potentially thrive. In the bigger picture, the organization becomes stronger. Our difference makes our teams that much better. Finding solutions often means there will be more than one thought as to how to get it done.
In an article, Why Diverse Teams Create Better Work, Adam Vaccaro writes that teams with different perspectives, points of view, and backgrounds result in better work (2014, View article here). This is not a new idea. It also doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. It takes conscious effort to find diversity in how workers conduct themselves using their strengths and methods. As a supervisor, being transparent as to what one may be trying to accomplish is important so a team understands that goal. When a diverse team is formed, there is likely to be conflict or hopefully vigorous debate where everyone feels safe sharing opposing views. Coming to agreement and maybe compromise for some, moves the organization forward with confidence, in the work that is produced.
Ideally, everyone is able to work in the style that they are accustomed to while having learned how other’s are most productive.
There have been studies, such as the one done by economists, Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University, that demonstrate that diversity stimulates economic development and homogeneousness slows it down (2011, City Lab). Having staff with entrepreneurial spirit and others with great attention to detail is not only beneficial to the internal team. but in developing partnerships with other organizations, it can make the difference in successful advancement of the business. Diversity is the selling point.
Build a diverse team. The challenges and struggles are worth the growth in personal development, team strength, and community partnerships.
Vaccaro, A. (2014, March 25). Why Diverse Teams Create Better Work. Retrieved from this link.
Florida, R. (2011, December 12). How Diversity Leads to Economic Growth. Retrieved from this link.