To attract the best people and succeed as a business, the authentic organization of the future will need to foster environments where creativity and innovation are a premium, employees feel engaged and committed, and leadership pipelines are carefully cultivated for future success. In our research, workplaces with those qualities look for an unusual kind of diversity, hiring people for differences that are more than skin deep. Differences in thought processes, frames of references and skills, among other things.
Case in point: Back in the 1980’s, the business division of a US publisher had one of the most widely diverse workforces we’ve heard about. We think you’ll agree. One senior editor had been part of a Washington think tank and was the expert on Asian culture; another held PhD in American history; another had worked as a speechwriter for a US president and was an environmental activist. There was also an associate editor who had interned at the New Yorker magazine and another who had a background in foreign affairs. Only two of those editors held MBAs — and this was the business division!
Why the unusual staffing? The head of the division was an accomplished business author and thinker who understood that the best ideas wouldn’t necessarily come from other business writers, or from people who looked at the world in the same ways he did, and he hired his staff accordingly. Weekly meetings of this division inevitably turned into dynamic brainstorming sessions and rapid-fire idea exchanges. There was lots of laughter but also frequent and open disagreement. Because people’s individual gifts were celebrated and their limitations accepted, they felt free to raise “stupid” questions without censure. This was important; people were allowed to be who they were, and therefore an exceptional clash of ideas, knowledge, and experience occurred. Phrases like “What does that mean?” and “Educate me” were often heard, as was the occasional expletive or passionate exchange. Between meetings editors gathered informally on couches in the reception area to toss around ideas or discuss a manuscript in development.
Together, the people in this division produced some of the most innovative and cutting-edge publications for executives at the time. And it so happened that the majority of the division was white and male (this was the 1980s, remember).
While we don’t recommend hiring staffs made up exclusively of any one particular gender or racial ethnicity or sexual orientation, etc., our point is that a different kind of diversity also needs consideration, one that goes beyond external qualities. Organizations that foster authenticity hire people because of (not in spite of) their differences in thinking, in the range of the ideas that they bring to the table. Sometimes that kind of difference in thought and orientation in a workplace coincides with differences in race, gender, and such — but not always.