Diversity comes with discomfort. Embrace it.
Originally published on LinkedIn by Paola De Almeida, Global Director of Corporate Innovation
Smart corporate leaders philosophically agree that diversity – of thought, creativity, culture, demographics, experiences – unlocks innovation. In fact, a growing body of research confirms that diverse teams are solidly more productive and innovative than homogeneous teams.
But in real life, how effective are organizational inclusion and diversity strategies? More importantly, how do we recognize diversity when we see it?
My own journey illustrates the point. When people meet me, they assume I’m American, born and bred. But they couldn’t be more wrong. I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, raised in São Paulo and began traveling the world before I could walk. I’ve also lived in London, Connecticut, and many other places. I’m a wife and mother. I’ve held jobs I probably had no right to hold, relying on an abundance of curiosity to learn the ropes and march forward.
I bring diversity to the table. But you can’t tell by looking at me. On the flipside, there are plenty of people whose appearance reflects diversity, but their experiences and perspectives lean toward uniformity.
The point is, if we want the right innovators working for us, we must learn to recognize them. How? By having insane humility and curiosity…by questioning our own implicit assumptions and by seeking first to understand, rather than be understood.
But diverse hiring is only part of the challenge. Once we make the right hires, we must also accept the discomfort and friction that comes with managing differences. If we’re serious about our inclusion and diversity strategy, we must ask, are we allowing people to be themselves, enough to create a vibrant business – one propelled by genuine innovation? Or are we setting workplace expectations that make it impossible for multi-potentialites – people with many creative interests and pursuits – and others to stay with us and thrive?
We must also ask, how often are we avoiding conflict by implicitly asking individuals to conform? In many corporations, there are unwritten rules for career advancement; they boil down to demonstrating polish and composure. But polish and composure are narrowly defined by American and European standards. So even if we’re hiring diverse talent, imposing a one-size-fits-all approach to managing them suppresses their value.
Of course, leaning into conflict isn’t easy. But history tells us that most progress actually stems from conflict – positive conflict sparks innovation and propels it to fruition. For Mars, it means having the diversity of talent to legitimately understand and represent the needs of our consumers around the world. That deep level of understanding doesn’t come from desk research. It comes from real life immersion. Likewise, consumers want to see themselves in the organizations they support. Organizations that don’t foster personal resonance between employees and consumers will eventually see their bottom lines ride into irrelevance.
Smart leaders know that homogeneity might generate innovation faster, but diverse teams will undoubtedly yield far richer results. So the provocation is, does your organization have the patience to embrace not just the philosophy, but the reality of diversity – with all its complexity and promise – to achieve so much more?
I’m proud to work for a company that not only recognizes the need for diversity but is also taking a hard look in the mirror. The updated I&D strategy we launched last year is ambitious and action focused. We know it won’t catalyze change overnight, but we’re committed to meaningful, long-term impact. I’m inspired by where this path can take us – and by the opportunity to create the world we want tomorrow by turning our conversations into action today.