7 ways to leverage the diversity of your team

If diversity is not managed effectively, it will become a disadvantage instead of a benefit. This article gives you seven practical management tips.    

Leveraging diversity can increase your company’s resilience. In other words, your organization will be better able to anticipate/deal with potential threats and cope more effectively with unexpected events. Then, using the knowledge gained from both types of situations, your company can facilitate dynamic, organizational change as needed.

There’s a catch though…your company diversity has to work for you, not against you. For diversity to be a positive tool, it must be valued and well-managed. Here are seven ways to leverage the diversity of your team.

 

1. Make diversity a priority.

When diversity is a company value and not just a buzzword, employees are more able to embrace it fully, no matter what their personal feelings are. Managers and leaders of diverse teams need to model acceptance of diversity in any form, ie. culture, gender, disability, age, etc. The knock on effect is that no employee feels marginalized, thus promoting the value of all.

 

2. Acknowledge that bias and prejudice exists.

The most effective strategy for reducing stereotyping and prejudice is admitting that it exists. This leverages your team’s diversity in two important ways. It legitimizes both the negativity which a team member may be receiving as a result of his or her diversity AND the resistance a non-diverse team member may be experiencing when told to “get on board.”

Admitting the problem says: “OK, we’ve got a situation. It is real. We are not interested in fault. We are interested in solutions. It might take a while. We’re committed.”

 

3. Actively develop connections between team members.

Interactions among diverse individuals present many opportunities for learning. These interactions rarely happen spontaneously because for many people, working in homogeneous groups is a habit. Leverage your team’s diversity by actively connecting team members who might not choose to connect on their own. Working together with diverse others towards mutual goals appears to be the most productive strategy.

 

4. Make the unknown familiar.

People are more likely to be inclusive when they feel comfortable. A lack of knowledge about another’s culture, religion, ethnicity, etc. may make a person not only uncomfortable but afraid. People who are afraid are not their best selves. Increasing your team’s knowledge about each member will help them see the familiar similarities rather than the scary differences between them.

 

One idea for increasing your team’s inclusiveness is Diversity Days.

Each time, a different team member presents information about themselves in a creative way. Here are some examples:

  • The employee could bring in several different foods/dishes which reflect their culture.
  • They could talk about their mother tongue, giving some interesting comparisons and contrasts with English.
  • Another idea is to speak about an important holiday in their culture or religion, with lots of visuals and perhaps authentic items.
  • A team member with a disability—perhaps in a wheelchair, for example—could let their teammates have a short, actual experience of navigating the office space from their point of view (that is, in the wheelchair).

 

5. Teach good listening skills.

Diversity means that different people may communicate things in different ways. This could be due to language differences, cultural habits, or just variations among people.

Increasing communication and minimizing miscommunication will leverage your team’s diversity. The best way to do this is through good listening. As team leader or manager, you can educate your team members with a series of mini-workshops. This material is for teachers, but really, it suits anyone who wants/needs to be a good listener.

 

6. Celebrate diversity.

No, not a party (although that might be a great idea, too). The point here is to use your team’s diversity to advantage when assigning work. Matching team members with tasks at which they can succeed and advance will celebrate their diversity, reinforcing its benefits for the employee, the team, and the company as a whole.

 

7. Create an honest feedback loop.

It’s all good…if it is working. The only way you are going to know that for real is if your team trusts you enough to give you honest feedback. So, you are going to need to ask some questions. Questions to ask of diverse others include how well they feel the company is communicating respect and how valued they feel as a diverse employee.

Non-diverse others should give feedback, too. Their questions should ask about how comfortable they feel working with diverse others, what types of inclusiveness challenges they still need to work on, and how they feel the company should be helping with this.

 

Much of human bias is unintentional.

This does not excuse it; it merely explains the challenge: teaching people awareness—awareness of the words which they use, the preconceived attitudes they have, the judgments and opinions which they are constantly forming.

The seven points above will go a long way in increasing this awareness in your team members, empowering each and every employee, and enabling you to leverage your team’s diversity.