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Can a tool improve intellectual diversity?

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I’ve written previously about the importance of diversity to a business.  I didn’t talk about diversity in the traditional, identity based version of the word however, but more the kind of thought based or intellectual diversity that so often leads to better decision making.  After all, that’s what organisations want, isn’t it?

In that previous post, I highlighted four rules Scott Page identified for diversity to really come into its own:

  1. The problem needs to be tough enough that no single person will always come up with a solution
  2. The team members need to have some intelligence in the general area of the problem
  3. The team members need to be able to incrementally improve solutions to the problem
  4. The team needs to be large enough to have a genuinely diverse talent pool

As a set of heuristics, I think this works quite nicely.  A new tool being developed by the University of Kansas sets out to measure diversity.  Will it be as effective as these simple rules?

The tool focuses primarily on identity based diversity, and explores both attitudes towards diversity and how these translate into day to day social interactions.  The ACES name of the tool refers to the four survey areas covered by it

  • Attitude toward diversity
  • Career activities related to diversity
  • Environment of diversity
  • Social interaction with diverse groups

“I think we were able to come up with a concise, sound tool that institutions can use to measure faculty perceptions of diversity,” says Lisa Wolf-Wendel, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas. “Certainly our goal would be to get other institutions to try the instrument and find it useful.”

Whilst the researchers initially focused their tool on gender, race, ethnicity, and national origin as their terms of diversity, they point out that other areas could easily be added to the instrument in future.

The tool asks participants to rate on a scale of 1-5 whether they strongly agree or disagree with statements surrounding diversity as it related to their work environment, employment and so on.

Whilst the tool is interesting, I’m not convinced that it has cross-over potential to begin measuring levels of intellectual diversity, nor of course attitudes towards it.  Perhaps more applicable to many organisations are the five strategies Deloitte outlined last year to help boost intellectual diversity.

  1. Hire unconventional people – During recruitment, there is a tendancy to hire people that are just like us.  Research has shown that recruiting managers tend to like people that reflect them, which is not great for diversity of thought.
  2. Understand the talents people have – One suspects that most employees are akin to icebergs, with a great many of their talents and abilities unknown and unutilised in the workplace.  A crucial part of having a diverse workplace is actually knowing what you have.
  3. Solicit feedback – I’ve written a lot recently on the importance of feedback, and managers need to do all they can to encourage it.  It’s no use having diverse opinions if people are too afraid to share them.
  4. Utilise reverse mentoring – Whilst I appreciate the sentiment of this advice, I’m more inclined to think that encouraging a supportive culture in whatever way is the best approach.  Help and advice should flow up, down and across the organisation.
  5. Be open to new ideas – The employees within your organisation are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ideas and insights.  A corporate culture that is open to ideas will inevitably look to those outside the organisation as well as those inside.  Removing the not invented here culture and opening oneself up to ideas from all corners is a crucial part of being diverse.
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