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What Is Team Diversity & Why You Should Care?

Mirna worked for an automotive supplier on their marketing team for ten years. How lucky to have scored this great job on one of the software development teams of this exciting business-to-consumer e-commerce startup! In the interview, Mirna talked about all her hard work to build her UX design skills, but she assumed that her lack of B2C experience would be a non-starter. Imagine her surprise when she received the call from her new boss.

Stories like this don’t play out often enough. Diversity is not just about hiring people with different social and ethnic backgrounds -- it’s also about hiring from different professional backgrounds. How often does a talent acquisition person get excited because they found the “perfect person” who came from their closest competitor (who we know more about than any other company on the planet) doing the same job for them? BINGO!

Whereas the new employee from your closest competitor will bring some slight modifications to your thinking from their last employer, Mirna may just rock your world! Mirna’s former employer may have seen similar situations but addressed them in novel ways. Furthermore, Mirna will question some practices and ideas that seem entirely natural to the rest of the team but are new to her. Those questions are like gold! They are the beginning of creativity.

Ethnic, racial, sexual, and economic diversity each offer different perspectives that can influence the direction of a discussion. None of these is likely to be as impactful as professional diversity. Yet, while enlightened companies race to address societal shortcomings, they are loath to focus on professional diversity. Allowing for professional diversity opens up more opportunities for finding candidates with social diversity. Maybe you can’t find a woman of color with experience in the catalog marketing industry, but there may be a candidate with the necessary skills from another industry.

Think about it like this -- the one thing you know well is your business. You know your customers, market, operating practices, and culture. So, you can easily teach all of this! Hiring great people who can learn fast means that in a relatively short time, they will absorb the knowledge they need about your business. After that, diversity is the gift that keeps on giving.

Armed with diverse team members, the next challenge is to avoid groupthink. Don’t quickly dismiss someone who raises a “dumb question” or “silly idea.” Sit with those thoughts long enough to look for hidden opportunities. Bob Ross’s “happy accidents” don’t just happen while painting. The difference is that you must deal with what you’ve done when you're painting. In conversation, it’s much easier to blow by happy accidents without gaining the potential benefits.

Be curious. Maybe the crazy idea will remain crazy, but often the conversation about it can spawn other ideas that are less crazy and more novel. You can see these detours as a diversion from the main objective of the conversation or an opportunity to find a pot of gold. You decide.

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