As has been pointed out many times, meeting your diversity quotas does not necessarily lead to diversity of thought. Even if you’re fully supportive of the idea – and let’s not forget that many people are still pretty scared at the thought – it isn’t enough simply to allow it to happen. Typically, diversity of thought doesn’t self-generate; it doesn’t always express itself spontaneously.
There are a number of reasons why that should be so. The power of ‘groupthink’ is very strong. We most of us have a natural tendency to fit in with the prevailing orthodoxy even if that means suppressing some of our own beliefs – particularly in a work context where acquiring a reputation for being a maverick could have significant career development consequences.
And, of course, that is especially true for people who identify themselves – even if only in part – as being a member of a minority group that has experienced discrimination in the past.
So, if it isn’t enough to allow diversity of thought, how do you encourage it? How do you make it happen? As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation and chairman of the National Geographic Society, said in a recent talk on the subject: “Being intentional means you might have to work a little harder”.
She went on to say that “you also have to create a comfortable table, a safe table … to draw out” contrary opinions. But even being careful to create the right environment isn’t always enough. It seems that Case sometimes quietly asks one or more people in a meeting to play the part of the cynic and argue against the ‘groupthink’ line in order to encourage others to start speaking out.
But should we really be engaging in this kind of ‘hand holding’ as some might see it? Well, yes, if that’s what it takes to establish a culture in which everyone is willing to bring their personal and unique contribution to the table. And remember, that once brought alive, diversity of thought will tend to self-perpetuate and the benefits – particularly in terms of innovation that otherwise might never have seen the light of day – will start to accrue.