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The Value of Diversity…

diversityLBelow is a recent reply I posted to some fellow forum participants surrounding the relevance or effectiveness of diversity in a workplace situation.  Next are their posts followed by my response.  The central point I make is that diversity is more than just a nice slogan.   But, it is instead a strategy used to increase organizational effectiveness in the face of a increasingly diverse workplace, marketplace, and workforce.

Joshua Strausser said

January 13, 2008 at 3:12 pm

I have small issue with this: “What the model showed was that diverse groups of problem solvers outperformed the groups of the best individuals at solving problems. The reason: the diverse groups got stuck less often than the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.”

From the complex systems viewpoint, this really just says it is better to have lots of suboptimal agents searching over a RUGGED solution landscape, rather than having a singular agent who can be trapped by local extrema. And while I see and certainly agree with the value of this viewpoint in relation to creative organizations, I don’t see it offering much towards firms whose work is essentially rote. Typical office situations come to mind. So what is my upside in encouraging diversity for your standard issue manager?

Reply
  • Grue said

    January 20, 2008 at 12:34 pm Good point Joshua. Also, if we are going to allow effectiveness as a reason for diversity, doesn’t that mean we should also allow it as a reason against diversity in some cases?

    For instance, if a job is mostly rote, perhaps introducing diversity will just lead to extraneous conflicts at the workplace that impede productivity. I’m some someone could conjure a mathematical model that would show this effect also.

    Reply
  • My Response:

    All of this is true, but the idea behind diversity is not all contexts are the same. For instance, though some office environments have rote office functions in today’s world most of these functions are becoming automated. Subsequently, only those functions and processes which are more complex are left to human intervention. And these are precisely the areas where diversity can be a benefit.

    Regarding context a quick sports analogy is helpful.  What any great coach will tell you is that you need different types of skill and talents to have a winning team.  Having a basketball team with Shaquille O’niell on it is a good thing and can be seen as improving the odds of your team winning.  That is..if he is playing center where his physical talents can be best utilized. However, if you have Shaq or Shaq like players trying to paly the point guard or small forward position do you think your team would be as good? I doubt it. Why? Because different positions require different skills. Which is the same situation that occurs everyday in every workplace. Diversity then, in essence, is a strategy that is used to identify how to best use the unique talents of the employee force you are responsible for.

    Finally, diversity is about how to put into practice those major organizational systems that can generate diversity and leverage unique differences. A major company system is the selection and hiring system. If this system is primed to generate diversity then organizational effectiveness can be be impacted in a quick and important way.

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    1. Innovative Diversity
      August 27, 2009 at 4:10 pm | #1

      The value of diversity is the fact that, rather than only having your own viewpoint, you have a team of people with varying skills and background to build a solution set from. While certain repetitive tasks certainly do not necessitate a group of employees with greatly diverse backgrounds. The procedure which the employees are performing should have been developed by a diverse team in order to ensure that many solutions to the problem at hand were discussed. The solution decided upon is a more robust one due to the fact that the diverse backgrounds will cause the same problem to be looked at from many differing viewpoints with a variety of experiences in mind rather than solely one’s own limited frame of reference to this world. The value of diversity is in tapping into the large pool of interests, experiences, and cultures present in the workplace and devising the most compatible idea which relates to everyone. If all aspects of diversity are not leveraged, the most powerful force in the workplace is essentially being ignored, the individual.

      It would be interesting to see a list of companies in any field who have been forced to declare bankruptcy to see how their measure of diversity compares to the most successful companies.

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