Why diverse teams are more profitable and how to get your own.
By Langa Khanyile
A wake-up call
I remember the flourish and flurry of seeing the HR director’s name flicker on my phone.
“Hey Langa”, the voice was self-aware and far less jovial than our previous conversations.
It was not good news.
They had remembered that I was gay and realised that it would be too risky for me to work in the country where the position was based.
Prosecutable by death.
It was a brief call.
I felt deflated and discriminated against, and over time it made me wonder about the impact such exclusionary practices had on a company’s and country’s economic potential. The more I read on the matter, the more convinced I became that people who own companies should insist that those who run them diversify their teams.
Research proves that diversity is more profitable
A recent study by the global insights firm Gartner found that “gayer” (more diverse) teams outperformed their less inclusive counterparts by over 50% on average. Intuitively, it makes sense that teams with diversity of age, gender, orientation, ethnicity, and abilities more closely resemble the very broad consumer base that successful companies usually serve. This, in turn, makes them more in tune with their consumers and better able to address their needs.
Study after study shows that across innovation, team communication, and assessing risk; across industries and eons; in hospitals where more diverse health care teams deliver better recovery outcomes; there is countless evidence for what Darwin long found across nature, and what savvy stock market investors have well known – diversity is strength.
At the macro-level, according to an article by the World Population Review, one of the most comprehensive studies on diversity was created by a team of scholars from Harvard University, World Bank, Stanford, and New York University and published in the Journal of Economic Growth in a paper called “Fractionalisation.” They explain that fractionalisation measures the likelihood that two randomly selected people in a given sample will be from two different sub-groups (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc). The study found that countries with high levels of population fractionalisation experienced a strong and positive influence on economic development over the short, medium, and long terms.
Furthermore, there is no shortage of examples of the contributions that gay people have made to society, from the arts to science and technology, our world has been enriched by being more open to the perspectives of others regardless of whom they find attractive. It boggles me that we’d even consider that factor as being relevant to whom we choose to employ and do business with.
So what’s preventing progress?
We all know the history behind our segregation and oppression in South Africa. Even though it was illegal to be gay, I doubt many white gay people would have chosen to be straight if it meant they also had to be black under apartheid. So historical racial divisions play a significant part in where we come from and find ourselves presently, and we still tend to define ourselves predominantly by our ethnicity and cultural backgrounds than any other attribute.
Outside of that racist social context, however, I’ve considered that our slower than expected integration lies in economics – there’s a propensity for greater social cohesion when there are enough resources to go around, while the opposite seems true – as prosperity shrinks divisions and factions form across areas of diversity. It is perhaps the reason that you will find racism and xenophobia are more pervasive amongst the less educated, less enlightened, and the poor.
Ultimately though, the core issue of most human ills is an elevated ego, and the death of the ego must thus form the basis of any sustainable attempt at true self-transformation. When you make yourself infinitely smaller, the possibilities that surround you become infinitely expanded.
Now, countless articles go into great lengths on how organisations and societies can fight racism and drive economic growth, and the Kabbalah provides an instructive discourse on how one can use meditation to develop humility and eliminate egoism and in so doing reduce the distance between themselves and the essence of creation.
I will therefore not dwell on those topics, save to underline the central teaching that echoes through each of them as it relates to our interconnectedness, not only with each other but with nature itself. When we realise that we are one, everything else tends to fall into place – to love your neighbour is to love yourself.
Assuming that the importance of driving diversity in our organisations is now clear, I outline a few tips to help you to recruit more diverse teams:
How to recruit diverse teams
- Be clear on your diversity gaps.
Look around, you are living in a country that is 90% Black, 70% straight (amongst gen – z’s), 50% female, and 10% differently-abled. If your team or organisation is mostly white, mostly male, or even mostly gay, then you most likely have an opportunity to benefit from increased diversity.
- Focus on diversity in leadership.
Focus your diversity efforts at the highest levels of the organisation, whenever the opportunity presents itself, strive to fill vacancies in the leadership team with diverse candidates.
- Use alternative methods for sourcing candidates.
Humans are creatures of habit and tend to surround themselves with those that are similar to themselves in some shape or form, look beyond your existing networks.
- Know your biases.
Do you tend to look up to taller people? If you have a brain, you have biases – our brains have evolved to make it easier for us to make snap decisions – we think that we are safer around people who look like us, making our workspaces more homogenous and thus less innovative.
- Comprehensive onboarding.
Once you have identified the perfect candidates it’s important to make them feel welcome and included in the organisation by ensuring a comprehensive onboarding process. Research shows that an employee’s effectiveness increases by 20% when onboarded effectively.
- DEI team meetings and committees.
Ensure that you have on-going conversations on matters of diversity equity and inclusiveness (DEI) by making it a topic at team meetings and by establishing and supporting the activities of a DEI committee.
How to reap the benefits of team diversity
Organizations should adopt more inclusive behaviours to build and sustain increasingly diverse teams. Diversity is the first and easier step, but inclusion is the key to leveraging diversity for superior business outcomes, Gartner suggests six ways to build a more inclusive culture in your organisation:
- Promote the benefits of inclusion.
Link inclusion directly to your core company values and use traditional communication methods such as posters, brochures, direct e-mails, and videos to drive the inclusion message home.
- Celebrate inclusive behaviour.
Celebrate all successes and progress made in adopting inclusive behaviours, no matter how small. Give the person or team their 10 minutes of glory — for example, during a meeting or a breakfast, and allow them to share their story of success and/or struggle.
- Create an open atmosphere for sharing and debating ideas and views.
Foster an open culture whereby diverse groups (individuals and decision makers) can freely express and voice their ideas. This type of open atmosphere brings together different perspectives, which can tear down biases and create rich discussions.
- Develop training modules on diversity and inclusion.
Encourage annual training on diversity and inclusive behaviour. Don’t be afraid to let employees explore both their positive and negative attitudes.
- Develop trust through vulnerability.
Be willing to show your weaknesses and limitations as a leader. Encourage team members to share their distinctive habits and then, as a team, explore and debunk stereotypes and encourage open discussion within the comforts of the team.
The most important thing to remember is that building and leveraging the advantages of diversity in any organisation will be a journey, one that starts with deep reflection and humility and one that will be ongoing and evolving as circumstances and contexts change.
Langa Khanyile is global marketing executive and business investor he has deep experience in driving organisational growth and team performance. He writes in his personal capacity.