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I know I’m not the typical picture of diversity. Growing up in communist Poland, however, offered me a unique approach to problems and solutions that most business people I meet today never consider. Diversity of thinking – combining our differences to cover as many different perspectives as possible in our decision making – is what companies benefit most from.
While diversity and inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups is important, being truly diverse requires more attention than people realise. To truly experience more diversity, we need to eliminate bias, move beyond what diversity looks like and choose the people who bring something new to the table.
Related: 10 ideas to boost your DEI initiatives in 2023
The often invisible diversity of immigrants
Like many immigrants, my childhood experiences – living under a harsh communist regime, fleeing my homeland and moving to a foreign country – shaped who I became and how I perceived the world. After ten years of never knowing if we would have enough to eat, abundance in the US looked different to me than someone who grew up not experiencing scarcity. I saw and took advantage of more opportunities in the US because I was so used to not seeing any.
And I’m not the only one. Immigrants usually view the US as a land of opportunity, which is why so many find success here. By leaving their homeland and starting a new life, immigrants show a higher tolerance for risk, which may explain why immigrants are more likely become an ukbusinessupdates.com. Evidently, 80% more likely than US-born citizens. Nataly Kelly for the Harvard Business Review compared the “immigrant mentalityto a growth mindset, an adaptability in the face of change that drives business success.
I recognize how my history caused differences from others at a young age. In Poland we all felt trapped by communism, so when an exchange student came to our school, we were curious about their differences. We asked questions and openly welcomed him. In the US, outsiders always came in, and the kids I met at school there felt more comfortable bullying the new kid. Their different experiences also shaped the decisions they made.
Over time, I learned to leverage my differences to build my own path to professional success. As my classmates and I got older, people became less attracted to me for my accent and more interested in it. I started using it as a tool to network, ask questions and learn from others. With over 25 years of C-suite experience and as the CEO and founder of a company dedicated to building high-performing boards, I’ve seen how combining many different minds can create successful leadership teams.
Related: The 3 C’s that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can teach us today to promote diversity, fairness and inclusion in the workplace
Align the image of diversity with the business case
Both gender and race represent an important element of the business case for diversity, but there are many different perspectives to consider within them. External pressures, from government and industry standards to public perception, can often drive companies to focus only on the diversity that observers can see.
Imagine a board of all white men. It appears homogeneous on the surface, but can be more diverse than it first appears. Perhaps they are all immigrants from all over the world, sharing vastly different experiences. Of course, boards of directors need to be diverse – including a range of women and people of different races and ethnicities – to achieve greater business benefits. We can still find diversity in an all-female or all-Latin or Black-male board, but the business case for diversity is less about appearances.
The benefits of diversity come from being able to reflect ideas from people who think differently from us, including as much as possible from a range of diversity – age, socioeconomic background, neurodivergencelike sex, race and ethnicity. The idea is to create a team where each member thinks as differently as possible about approaching problems and creating solutions. Even if that diversity looks like a white man, if he happens to be an immigrant, we can count on the benefits of diversity.
Related: Solving organizational diversity is still a problem: the costs are high, but the rewards are high
Use this practically when hiring
To bring the benefits of diversity to a team, we need to think about how certain perspectives fill the gaps in a company’s leadership. We can implement this in the recruitment processes by:
- Eliminate prejudices. Imagine both candidates conducting an interview behind a curtain. Talk to them and get a sense of their mission, vision and values as you determine how well they fit with the company.
- Looking for diversity that brings something new to the table. Without thinking about what diversity “should” look like, choose the candidate based on what their unique perspective will benefit the company.
- Going beyond the usual concepts. Look for adding diversity in undiscovered areas – age, socioeconomic background, neurodiversity or culture.
- Offering mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. Sometimes the candidate with the right diversity to benefit a team has less experience. Put them together with experienced team members to provide support and resources so they can better develop their skills and navigate their careers while feeling like part of the team.
- Be open to seeing potential in everyone. There is a classic story about two brothers with an alcoholic father. One grew up successful and the other followed in their father’s footsteps. When asked how they got to where they were in life, both replied, “Because of my dad.” A brother chose to take adversity by the horns and become better than his past. That may not look like diversity on the outside, but his perspective would bring diverse thinking and problem solving to a team.
Related: What Business Leaders Are Getting Wrong About Bias Training
Of course, we must continue to include more women and others from traditionally marginalized groups in all levels of business and leadership, but to reap the business benefits, diversity of diversity is the best approach. Sometimes the most unique perspective doesn’t come from the diversity we’re used to seeing. Leaders need to read between the lines. Create a bigger picture of diversity beyond check marks and good looks by gathering the right diversity based on what’s important to the company.