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Thought Diversity: What Is It and Why Is It Important for Recruiting?

Updated: Jun 3

Your thoughts are shaped by the pressures that formed you into the person you are today. These pressures can be social, they can be cultural, they can physical; they are the sum total of your experiences, viewpoints, education, and more. 

In other words, no two people think in the same way.

While it might seem as though one of the best things you can do to build a team is to find like-minded people who “think the same way as you” to avoid conflict and keep everyone focused on the same task with the same perspective, this is, actually, detrimental to a business.

The truth is, that diversity – in culture, in religion, in background, and in thought – is a critical component of a great modern business.

Thought diversity breeds conflict and disagreement, which are not harmful when approached the right way. Conflict brings ideas, resolutions, and thinking outside the box to find new solutions. Disagreement fosters discussion and new ways to approach a problem.

To quote myself from a previous article:

“Diversity is critical for a high-performance team. An effective team should consist of people from different backgrounds, demographics, skill sets, and knowledge bases. Drawing from a diverse teams’ thoughts, experiences, and histories leads to more varied discussion, more diversity of ideas, and better end-results.”

Diversity in background, diversity in perspective, and diversity in thought are all critical components of a highly effective business.

What is Thought Diversity?

Thought diversity, also known as cognitive diversity, has been taken up as a buzzword, which is dangerous because it risks the concept becoming just another piece of jargon. When taken seriously, thought diversity is a critical component of business success. There’s just one question: what is it?

Thought diversity is diversity in how you think, how you attempt to solve problems, and your experiences that inform your potential solutions. Consider:

  1. A graduate of Yale and a graduate of a local community college will have different approaches to solving a problem.

  2. A white male and a black female will have different perspectives on issues.

  3. An able-bodied individual and a disabled individual will, again, have different views.

The Center for Talent Innovation describes two kinds of diversity: inherent and acquired.

  1. Inherent diversity is the diversity that stems from “traditional” diversity characteristics. Those characteristics include race, ethnicity, religion, background, etc.

  2. Acquired diversity comes from experiences, such as education level, lifestyle, and participation in extracurricular activities of various sorts.

  3. Both forms of diversity can be necessary for building a high-performing team and an effective business, and both contribute to thinking in different ways.

Thought diversity is, essentially, conflict. However, it is a conflict that is both reasonable and mediated.

  1. Reasonable conflict means conflict over, for example, an approach to solving a problem. Irreconcilable differences (such as unquestioned bigotry from one party) are not reasonable conflicts that can lead to productive outcomes.

  2. Mediated conflict is a conflict that is channeled in a constructive manner. If a conflict between the hypothetical Yale graduate and community college graduate leads to one party disregarding the other, the conflict does not lead to solving a problem, just to driving away an employee.

Thought diversity can be difficult to leverage, and it’s hard for many people to internalize if they’ve never encountered it before. To quote Titus Talent, thought diversity in the workplace means:

“Implementing processes that celebrate thought diversity means opening yourself up to the idea that your way is not the best way. Reordering day-to-day operations can improve thought diversity by making the workplace more accessible to a larger group of people. A diverse workplace makes employees feel safe to express their perspectives and their needs.”

Confronting diversity in thought without downplaying, minimizing, or disregarding opposing perspectives is difficult but essential.

What Thought Diversity is not

Thought diversity is distinct from neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the viewpoint that differences in mental state, cognitive perspective, and brain chemistry/structure are not deficits but rather normal variances. 

Neurodiversity includes things like ADHD, autism spectrum, dyslexia, and other former “disorders” that are increasingly being recognized more as differences in natural thinking that deserve accommodation rather than oppression. While neurodiversity is a form of diversity and can lead to thought diversity, the two are not the same.

Another thing that thought diversity is not is an enforced change in perspective. All too often, business owners (typically white and male) try to train thought diversity into existing employees rather than bring it in from the outside.

This is ineffective primarily because the individuals attempting to think in diverse ways will still default to their natural thought patterns. True thought diversity stems from diversity in natural thought patterns and perspectives rather than some trained, temporary cognitive exercise. Thought diversity cannot be turned on and off and is not an experiment; it is the natural consequence of differing perspectives encountering one another in a tempered, controlled environment.

Where Does Thought Diversity Intersect Recruiting?

There are three places where thought diversity is important in recruiting. Identifying, monitoring, and paying attention to thought diversity throughout the recruiting and hiring process is extremely important. 

What are the three ways to use thought diversity in recruiting?

First: Diversity in Candidate Selection

As you might expect, the first is in who you choose to hire. When you build your candidate pool, and when you prune it down to the most highly qualified candidates for a given role, one aspect you should make sure to emphasize is diversity.

There are many reasons for this. The obvious reasons include:

  1. Building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

  2. Encouraging candidates of all demographics to consider your business a good workplace.

  3. Meeting industry or legal standards for diversity and inclusiveness (such as EEOC regulations.)

Additionally, by building an employee roster of diverse employees, you naturally build up thought diversity. Individuals become coworkers, team members, and even friends, despite widely varying backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone can learn from one another.

Second: Diversity in Sourcing

The second source of diversity is diversity in sourcing itself. If you always work with a single recruiter or recruiting agency, always post on the same couple of job boards, or continually advertise using the same messaging, the same targeting, and the same channels, you’re going to have a relatively narrow pool of candidates.

Conversely, what happens if you implement recruiting from a broader range of channels?

  1. You can gain applications from people with more diverse backgrounds.

  2. You can gain applications from people with more diverse geographic origins.

  3. You can tap sources of candidates from further afield.

There is bias everywhere. Job sites have demographics, which are developed through the combination of their messaging, their chosen industries and skill levels, and so on. Some are intentionally narrow, while others are unintentional. The fact is, the more diverse your sources, the more diverse your resulting candidate pool will be.

Third: Diversity in Interviewer Selection

The third area where thought diversity can benefit you in recruiting is in the choice of individuals you pick to conduct your interviews.

Group interviews are becoming more and more common and with good reason. One individual may be swayed by the charisma or connection to a candidate. Our hypothetical Yale graduate might favor another Yale graduate more than a community college applicant, even if no outward evidence indicates that an individual is a better hire.

A panel of interviewers made up of individuals with diverse thoughts can be more difficult to sway. Candidates must navigate a more challenging environment, especially if they aren’t used to a diverse workplace or social situation. On top of that, diverse interviewers can see potential problems in behavior, answers, and questions that single interviewers or less diverse panels might miss.

A common piece of advice for problem-solving is approaching the problem from different angles to get a more complete picture of a situation and trying out different solutions to see how they affect the issue. This technique for thought diversity becomes much easier when you have a team made up of people who naturally approach problems in different ways.

How to Use Thought Diversity in Recruiting

Thought diversity is critical for every part of a business, from top to bottom. Whether you’re recruiting your next C-level executive or Director, or you’re hiring a team of entry-level employees for customer service, diversity is crucial. The question is, how can you implement it?

Step 1: Analyze Existing Diversity

Everyone starts from somewhere, and that holds true for your business as well. Analyze your existing diversity as much as you can. Remember, though, that some forms of diversity aren’t necessarily something your employees want or need to disclose, including medical diagnoses, background, and more. You need to avoid stepping on toes or violating protection laws.

Some clear indicators of diversity to look for include information that can easily be observed or identified from a resume. The geographic origin, race and ethnicity, and background of your employees are generally public knowledge.

Look for gaps in diversity. Are your demographics heavily skewed to males? Is the majority white? Are they primarily young, single professionals rather than older workers with families? Are they all college-educated when that may not necessarily be required?

Step 2: Remove Barriers to Diversity

As you analyze your existing diversity, you may find explicit or implicit barriers in your hiring process.

Some common barriers include:

  1. Requiring a college education for positions that don’t need it. Plenty of people get college-equivalent educations, or are perfectly intelligent and educated without a degree, and can be highly effective employees.

  2. Adding physical lifting requirements for jobs that don’t involve physical labor. This requirement tends to be discriminatory to physically disabled individuals, among others.

  3. Placing steep requirements in your job postings. It’s well-known that men will typically apply when they meet some of the job requirements, while women will usually only apply if they meet all of them. Thus, steep (unnecessary) requirements tend to suppress female applicants.

Remember that thought diversity and demographic diversity are inextricably linked, and one leads to the other. By removing barriers to diverse hiring, you foster higher levels of thought diversity.

Step 3: Don’t be Afraid to Make Significant Changes

Often, diversity and inclusion require significant adjustments to implement. This adjustment can be anything from firing a toxic and bigoted executive to restructuring your organization to revamping your onboarding process.

The onboarding process is a good example. If your onboarding process is slow and your new hires might wait 2-3 weeks before their first paycheck arrives, you end up suppressing certain kinds of candidates. 

Those from impoverished backgrounds might not have the savings to wait that long. Thus, implementing a faster onboarding process to reduce time-to-first-paycheck helps.

Step 4: Minimize or Punish Damaging Conflict

Part of encouraging thought diversity in the workplace is fostering a safe place for individuals to express their views, argue constructively, and come to solutions together.

That means you have to be aggressive in stopping the conflict that does not lead to productive outcomes. Managers, leaders, and team members who downplay, ignore, or fail to encourage participation from new hires will find those new hires “fall in line” and never voice their opinions. They may be an excellent resource, but they have been conditioned not to speak out, leaving that value on the cutting room floor.

Is Thought Diversity Important?

Unquestionably. Study after study has been conducted and shown proof that diversity in hiring, in demographics, and in thought leads to better results for any business at any level. Businesses with greater thought diversity find better, more agile outcomes to problems, implement better solutions, and navigate issues more efficiently.

The hardest part is getting the ball rolling. Once you’ve begun implementing measures to encourage greater thought diversity, it becomes easier to keep it going.

Have any questions or concerns regarding thought diversity and how you can implement the idea into your recruiting? We are here to help, contact us to learn how we can help!

Getting started with implementing thought diversity into your business isn’t going to be simple for everyone, so we would be more than happy to assist you or your business with any of your concerns.

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