True workplace diversity goes beyond gender parity

Diversity takes on many forms around us. Think of a garden, an orchestra, and the example that’s easiest to relate to: food. While every ingredient has its unique taste, combining them in the right amount will result in a delicious dish.

If we understand the value of diversity, why is workplace diversity still a big challenge for many companies?

D&I’s progress limited a narrow view of diversity

According to a 2019 report by leadership advisory firm Heidrick & Struggles, all of the companies surveyed in Asia-Pacific had diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs. However, less than half (43%) of the executives were content with their company’s D&I journey. 31% of respondents said their D&I programs were basic, and only 26% thought they were effective.

One possible reason for those sentiments is the myopic focus on gender as the main facet of workplace diversity initiatives. Case in point: Respondents from the same Heidrick & Struggles survey shared that women in leadership initiatives made up the bulk (89%) of their D&I program. While gender parity is no doubt important, there are other facets of workplace diversity that we should also pay attention to if we want D&I to be effective.

Building the case for cognitive diversity

Some companies have expanded their D&I programs to cover areas such as race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. By doing so, they are trying to boost collective intelligence through cognitive diversity (i.e. diversity of thinking, perspective, and intellectual style) because those differences can help companies come up with innovative ideas or solutions to meet business objectives.

According to TEDx speaker and author Juliet Bourke, cognitive diversity refers to educational and functional diversity, as well as how people solve problems. She found that a complex problem usually requires input from six different approaches: process, risk, outcomes, options, people, and evidence. Since no one is equally good at all six, teams with complementary members are more likely to solve a problem more effectively.

Research has shown that cognitive diversity can help organizations enhance innovation by 20% and reduce risks by up to 30%. We’ve experienced this first-hand at Cloudera Asia-Pacific. By forming teams with different intellectual styles and perspectives, we’ve created healthy friction within the teams that help motivate each other to achieve better outcomes. Coupling that with cultural diversity has also helped us build the most effective and relevant strategy for each market, which has led Asia-Pacific to be one of the fastest-growing regions for Cloudera for more than 3 years.

Embracing cognitive diversity calls for a level playing field for all talents. You can take the first step to achieve that by disaggregating the data on your workforce, as recommended by acclaimed author, activist, lawyer, and educator Dr. Mary Frances Berry. This will enable you to better understand the diverse concerns that groups of people from different places and backgrounds have, despite sharing racial classifications. Such insights can then shape your plans to create a more equitable workplace.

If you’re keen to find out more about the role of data in D&I initiatives, do read the recap of the discussion between Dr. Mary Frances Berry and our CEO, Rob Bearden, at ClouderaNow on this topic. And keep a lookout for my next post, which will cover why building an inclusive culture is the next step to making diversity work.

Mark Micallef
Mark Micallef

VP, Asia Pacific & Japan

1 Comments

by Jay Price on

Very insightful, Mark Metcalfe. Thank you for sharing.

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