Diversity is more than difference of color
Yesterday I had the privilege to join a panel on how to develop diversity on your teams at Developer Week in Brooklyn. I was really excited to learn that diversity made it onto the event agenda. The panel was made of 5 women with varied and rich experiences in making diverse teams.
One of the main takeaways of our conversation is that diversity is not driven only by the color of your skin or gender, but also by difference in perspective. As a matter of fact, it is more detrimental to a team to lack diversity of perspectives than anything else. Perspectives are defined by many things, like the schools one attends, the place someone grew up, and the types of jobs one has had. So, next time you interview someone who is the total opposite of you, hire him/her.
Diverse Perspectives Improve Experiences
Great leadership and decision making can only come from a variety of perspectives. When we were building an internal technology in JetBlue for our operational teams, we realized that, unless we brought in the perspective of the people who were going to use the tool in the design phase, we were risking designing the wrong functionality.
Having people on the Customer Experience team from the front line not only brought us the perspective we needed, it ensured the tool we built was of service to those who needed to use it.
Diverse perspectives are good business and a helpful way to manage risk. On the panel, we talked about a brand that did not intend to make an offensive marketing piece. However, because there was no internal representation of the group, the brand ended up offending its audience. There was nobody to even bring that perspective – and risk – to light. In the end, the brand lost 40% of its stock price in one day, simply because there was no real diversity in the company.
The unconscious (or conscious) bias to hire ourselves is predominant in recruiting. We all do it or have done it. We meet someone with the same background we have, and we are immediately drawn to them. But hiring that person is the just a bad business decision. Essentially, you are hiring yourself again. You are not adding any skills to your team.
Making a team means taking a group of people with different skills and perspectives that together can play off each other’s strengths to create value. When you lack diversity, you are creating the same one thing over and over. Not only that, you are creating bad team culture. When people are the same, they start competing for attention and for exposure. Since they have the exact same skills and perspective, they can do the exact same things. This overlap creates competition that does not exist in the same way on a diverse team.
How to Build a Diverse Team
When I was in JetBlue I built a team from scratch. I started with one full-time employee and an intern. I paid very close attention to what skills we needed and hired for those skills. If I already had the skills on the team, I would not hire another person with the same skillset. For example, I had an amazing person with an airport operation background. I never took another person with airport operation background.
Building a good, diverse team is like cooking a good meal. You need different ingredients to make the perfect flavor. So, don’t be afraid of spices you have never worked with before. Have an open mind!
Last but not least, give a chance to at least one candidate who is not perfect on paper for the job. You will meet a candidate in your career who has the potential to do great work but is on the cusp of being qualified. By giving someone that chance, you create loyalty that will pay you back many times. You also start a chain reaction. People never forget having been given a chance like that, and they will always pass it forward as they advance their careers.
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