Inspiring Diversity

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A few months ago, we gave a presentation on diversity to the EY Intuitive team. Some of us had attended an AIGA panel entitled “Why Diversity Matters in Design & Tech,” and it got us talking about the importance of diversity in all forms, how we embrace our existing diverse team, and how we can further enhance its power.

So what is diversity? Simply put, diversity means “variety.” This is a relatively straightforward definition that can be explored endlessly. To us, diversity goes beyond just acceptance of “variety,” it means a celebration of differences. It’s everything we are and everything we are not.

Diversity is not only ways of being, but also ways of knowing. A study from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) posits that diversity can be categorized into two forms: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity involves traits a person is born with, such as gender and race. Acquired diversity, on the other hand, is about differences in ways of thinking that people acquire through their experiences. This includes factors like cross functionality, cultural fluency and language skills. Having both inherent and acquired diversity is called 2D diversity.

The idea that our thinking is shaped by our culture, background, experiences and personalities is core to the concept of acquired diversity, or diversity of thought. It can be considered an “invisible diversity dimension.” In some ways, diversity of thought is more important than inherent diversity in collaborative work environments such as ours. It guards against groupthink and overconfidence. Having cognitive diversity in the workplace also helps teams complete tasks more successfully and make better decisions because information is processed more creatively than in homogeneous groups.

The majority of existing research on diversity focuses on leadership, as diverse leadership is needed to harness diversity in staff. On the EY Intuitive team, we have diversity of thought at all levels of leadership, which has created an environment open to innovation, and where out-of-the-box ideas can be heard, upping creativity and creating room for new growth.

Diversity in a company is not only of benefit to individual team members, but it is also good for the bottom line. According to a Harvard Business Review article, companies with leadership who have 2D diversity both out-innovate and out-perform others. Diversity fosters more brainstorming, more active collaboration, and better decision making, all of which strengthens a business and leads to what is known as a “virtuous cycle” of increasing returns.

Acquired diversity also increases the scale for new insights. Companies where leaders have acquired diversity can establish a culture in which all employees feel free to share ideas. Leadership can create a “safe space” for new ideas, and this can unlock out-of-the-box thinking. The Stanford Social Innovation Review suggests that “employees in a speak up culture are 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their full innovative potential,” and “leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driven insights.”

Research also shows that companies in the top quartile for inherent diversity are likelier to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile. Gender-diverse companies in the top quartile are 15% more likely to outperform those in the bottom, and ethnically diverse companies in the top are 35% more likely to outperform those in the bottom. When companies like these have success, they are better able to win top talent, and employee satisfaction is higher.

Beyond the bottom line, both company culture and individual employees benefit from diversity. Simply being exposed to diversity can change the way an employee thinks and enhance his or her creativity. Working with people who are different encourages the search for novel information and perspectives and requires that deeper thought be given to problem solving, which leads to better decision making. Diversity also guards against groupthink—it requires that people anticipate alternate viewpoints, prepare better for collaboration, work harder to reach consensus and yes, disagree more often. There is a common belief that looking past our differences, thinking “we are all the same,” will help move toward a more productively diverse environment, which is not always true. Disagreement can be positive because it leads groups to brainstorm and work through ideas collaboratively, which in turn leads to more creative solutions. Under this new paradigm of diversity, it’s important that we understand how our differences matter.

At the EY Intuitive studio we have a focus on diverse, multidisciplinary teams, which results in more innovative work. Multidisciplinary teams give equal voice to diverse perspectives and increase creativity in problem-solving. We are able to collaborate with people who have different perspectives from us, which can help overturn any “invisible biases” we may have against people who think differently than we do. When a company has an emphasis on collaboration and diverse leadership and teams, that also influences hiring, because diversity attracts diversity, which makes a company stronger and more able to succeed.


Illustration by Susie Briggs

The author

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Susie Briggs

Senior Designer