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Excerpted by Nancy Cushing-Jones from

People First for Organizational Fitness published by The Myers-Briggs Company

Despite efforts taken by governments and organizations around the world, diversity in the workplace may be shrinking. For example, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported in 2017 that gender disparity in the workplace had increased. Why does diversity in the workplace matter? Diversity refers to the ways in which we differ from each other. When we understand that every individual is unique, and when we recognize and make constructive use of individual differences, then we support diversity.

Although gender, ethnicity and race are often diversity’s focal points, diversity also encompasses differences in personality type, religion, socio-economic background, generation/age, capabilities, nationality, sexual identity, and neuro-diversity. The latter is beginning to enter HR vocabulary as a term to cover people with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and Asperger’s Syndrome. Every individual is unique, and when we recognize and make constructive use of individual differences, we support diversity. 

There is now significant research affirming the relevance of the link between diversity and economic performance at a national and organizational level. A recent McKinsey study identified inclusion and diversity as a source of competitive advantage and a key enabler of growth. The research results were striking. It found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability and greater value creation than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the finding was a 33% likelihood of outperformance in profitability. At a national level, the WEF reported that economic gender parity could add an additional $1,750 billion to the USA’s GDP. The McKinsey study showed that companies with more diverse workforces can attract top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction and decision-making. Additional contributing factors include higher levels of collaboration, innovation and creativity, together with a more effective team working dynamic.

It’s not surprising that business leaders recognize the importance of diversity. And yet, a great deal of inequality still exists. If one takes gender as an example, according to Price Waterhouse Cooper’s 2018 Global CEO survey, women account for 60% of college graduates but only 3% of leaders worldwide and male CEOs were likely to earn 77% more on average than female CEOs.

Many organizations now acknowledge that they have a diversity problem. Organizations often combine diversity initiatives with inclusion and collaboration initiatives, which makes a lot of sense. Diversity can be defined as the ways we differ. Inclusion and collaboration refer to the ways we value and actively work with those differences. The added focus on inclusion and collaboration does signal that the organization wants to use the benefits of diversity, and wants to create an environment that recognizes uniqueness, fosters belonging, and empowers collaborative and team working. Diversity is not just about increasing the percentage of underrepresented groups in an organization. It’s about recognizing and encouraging difference – for example, diversity of personality types. And when we consider different personality types, we find implications for decision-making too.

Myers-Briggs (MB) looked at decision-making: does a person prefer to make decisions using objectivity, logic and impersonal criteria? Or do they prefer a values-driven approach that considers the personal circumstances of the people involved? (In MBTI terms, the former preference is called Thinking, and the latter is called Feeling.) In line with other research, MB found that women were more likely than men to prefer Feeling, the values-driven approach. However, it was in the interaction between occupational level, gender and decision-making style that these results really were interesting. For men, the proportion of people with a Feeling preference did not vary much between levels. For women, the higher the occupational level, the lower the proportion of those with a Feeling preference. The percentage varied from 46% at employee level down to just 30% at top level. This suggests two things. First, it may be more difficult for women to be promoted if they have a Feeling preference, but for men it does not matter – all things being equal, men are just more likely to reach a higher level. Second, even in organizations that do have women at higher levels, the Feeling approach to decision-making is likely to be underrepresented. This could be an issue because there is plenty of evidence that this can contribute to a very effective leadership style, especially when shaping an organization’s culture. A deep understanding of organizational culture and how it relates to individual employees is crucial to making progress with diversity. Leaders are especially important in this because they have most influence in shaping and transmitting the ‘real’ culture (informal, perceived, understood). This is not necessarily aligned with the ‘ideal’ culture (formal, published). A deep understanding of organizational culture and how it relates to individual employees is crucial to making progress with diversity. Leaders shape and transmit culture in more impactful ways than vision and value statements do.

All humans are prone to bias. Tests can help people become more aware of their unconscious biases. Generally, personality questionnaires can be extremely useful. By understanding their own personality, seeing how others differ in personality and using these differences in a constructive way, individuals can go beyond prejudice and develop effective working relationships.

In the 21st century, monocultural companies that have one viewpoint and a limited range of approaches to problems will lack the agility to withstand today’s challenges.