This is not the diversity you are looking for.

If you saw a team comprised of only white males, how would you rate its diversity? What about a team that contained an equal mix of men and women? Or how about a team of women of varying skin colors? At first glance you may think the first team has the least diversity of them all, but how do you really know? What are you using to make this assessment and is it the best measure? This is the challenge many leaders face as they try to build their teams. They know they need diversity, and their team will be better for it, but what does it look like and how do they know when they have achieved it?

To help answer this question, we first need to understand there are two types of diversity, inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity is the diversity you are born with, like race, gender, and some of our behavioral style or personality. Acquired diversity is derived from our unique experiences and cultural backgrounds. You could possibly distinguish these as diversity of nature and nurture, respectively. These components that make up our diversity interact and influence one another to form the unique diversity an individual brings to the table. While some may have a greater impact, others may be more distinguishable. And this is where the challenge comes in.

To truly understand the unique diversity of an individual, we would need to know everything there is to know about the person. This of course is an impossibility – people do not even know themselves that well. So, what do we do? We simplify it and take a sample of what forms their diversity and draw conclusion from there. Although this can be fairly insightful, its validity highly depends on what we used for our sampling. Take surveys of the population as an example. If you want to know what Canadian’s think about a topic you take a random sampling of the population. If done well, there is a high level of certainty the results will reflect the general population. However, if the survey only included people from a specific city, the level of certainty drops substantially. The first approach is more accurate but requires more work. The second approach is easier, however the results can yield incorrect conclusion that lead to bad decisions. Unfortunately, when it comes to measuring diversity on teams, the approach is often more like the latter than the former.

If you look back at the three teams I described at the beginning, you will see the only factors of diversity I included are inherent ones – race and gender. These are often the primary focus of attention when determining diversity as they are the easiest to spot. We may even go as far to say a team will represent us if it contains someone who looks like us. Although these can be indicators of diversity or sameness, they are not a guarantee. In fact, these factors have the least to say about one’s overall diversity and can be the most misleading. For example, if a set of identical twins are separated and adopted by two families that live in different parts of the world, they may still look the same physically as they grow up but would be very different otherwise.

So, if race and gender can provide a false sense of diversity, what should leaders be looking for to determine if their team has the diversity it needs? Well, that will depend to some degree on why the team exists, but in general all teams are there to accomplish something. This involves coming up with ideas (problem solving and future thinking), discerning the best idea, galvanizing people to the new direction or project, and those who are able to get it done. Each of these steps requires unique skills and knowledge. Thus, the best teams are a mixture of people who are gifted, energized, and drawn to the various stages of getting things done. It is this diversity in skill and thinking a leader should be looking for the most.

Now that we have identified the type of diversity leaders should be looking for in their teams, this leaves the question of how do they measure where they are at and what they should look for to improve it? Well, this starts with identifying the gifts of the people on the team, what it is good at, where it struggles, and how open the team is to new ideas or ways of doing things. A challenge teams will face when doing this type of assessment is the presence of biases and the tendency for subjective methods of assessment and interpretation. After all, it is easy for a team to think they are great at something when they have never seen the potential of what could be. To overcome this challenge, leaders benefit from the help of an organizational health consultant. Not only do they bring in an outside perspective that can challenge existing biases and expose the team to new possibilities, but they also have access to various objective assessment tools like the DISC behavioral assessment and the Six Types of Working Genius. Not only do these tools help identify diversity gaps within the team they also aid the team’s ability to understand and embrace an increase in diversity.

As you look to assess the diversity of your team, you have choices to make. You can take the easy approach of ensuring your team is visually diverse and run the risk of not having the diversity you are looking for. Or, you can take the more difficult approach, accounting for both inherent and acquired diversity. You can choose to go it alone and run the risk of succumbing to natural biases and subjectivity. Or, you can bring in an expert who can help you identify your team’s diversity gaps and not only build a truly diverse team, but one that fits your needs and is capable of handling the challenges that come with diversity. What will you choose?

Jeffery Schau

Organizational Health Consultant

Certified DISC behavioral analysis consultant

Certified Six Types of Working Genius consultant