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Diversity, and all of its benefits and challenges, is an issue I have been grappling with since my first day of kindergarten. Despite me being a person of color and also a women, I am in no way an expert on the subject. There are, in fact, experts and even organizations dedicated to bringing diversity in its various forms to industries, communities and institutions around the world.

Diversity is a colossal issue that reaches across party lines, borders and even oceans. Diversity is an ever evolving beast that can make or break your company in the brave new world we are living in today.

When I first started my career, diversity simply meant more people of color (not necessarily women) in the workplace – it would satisfy management enough to tick the box saying you have some minorities working for you. As populations increased and access to information became easier, things started to evolve and more people joined the conversation; what defined diversity became in itself, more diverse. Today, diversity is built on both inclusion and cognitive diversity – it requires action beyond ticking a box. This article is titled, “How to improve diversity in the workplace”, which suggests you are reading this because you already have, or what you believe to be, an inclusive workplace. Meaning you have followed this definition (or the many versions of this definition) of inclusion:

Inclusion is the support for a collaborative environment that values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives that has a positive impact on business. Leadership, (here comes the action part) at such an organization is transparent, communicative, and engaging.

Now that you have read that definition, does that sound like your workplace? If not, you should go back to the experts. Inclusion is good for business and worth your consideration, especially for the future growth of your workplace.

“Seeking out those who are like you is completely human, but when it comes to the workplace, it seems we have become blind to the sameness we attract.”

If you can say, “Yes, this reflects my current workplace”, congratulations! But you are not finished yet, because diversity today includes another element: cognitive diversity. Have you heard the term, “Great minds think alike”? I’m sure you have, but have you actually stopped to think about what the phrase stands for? A crude definition would be: we think the same, therefore we are great. Seeking out those who are like you is completely human, but when it comes to the workplace, it seems we have become blind to the sameness we attract. Of course, there are the obvious similarities like race, gender and religion, but many more traits exist. Do you hire people that went to the same university, or are from the same region in your country? Or perhaps you hire people that played the same sport or listen to the same music, or study the same type of science. Even if they don’t look the same, or have the same gender, their life experiences, and therefore world perspective, will be the same or similar, which begs the question: when your team is coming from the same point of view, how do you ensure your ideas are in fact inclusive, unique and disruptive?

You see examples of this in mainstream media – for example, Intel – one of the largest technology companies in the world – released an ad with the image of six black runners bowing in front of a white man dressed in business attire under the headline, “maximize the power of your employees”. This lead to outrage over its parallels to plantations and slavery – something a team with more cognitive diversity may have noticed.

“The real distinction is that my people think differently. When I say differently I don’t mean creatively, I literally mean that I have different kinds of thinkers on my staff.”

There are also examples of cognitive diversity working well for companies. In fact, one company in particular, Emergenetics International, has sited cognitive diversity as their competitive advantage. When asked the reason for the company’s success, (Emergenetics International has made the Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies in America three years in a row) the CEO states, “The real distinction is that my people think differently. When I say differently I don’t mean creatively, I literally mean that I have different kinds of thinkers on my staff.” That is exactly how you improve diversity in your workplace; you bring in people who think differently from you and the team.

Cognitive diversity is one of the reasons I love working for Digital Science – thinking differently is at the core of our ethos. Our company was founded on the (crazy) idea that you can bring together a group of people from different backgrounds, disciplines and life experiences, and create something that could change the way science is done today. I hope this article has made you think about how you will bring cognitive diversity and inclusion to the table at your workplace.