March 4th, 2021
EPISODE 5: Why Diverse Teams are Smarter, but Don’t Feel That Way
Decades of research have made it clear that diverse teams are smarter and more innovative than homogeneous teams. But there are a few stubborn cognitive quirks that get in the way of building and fostering diversity in organizations. In this episode of Your Brain at Work, NLI CEO Dr. David Rock is joined by Associate Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Valerie Purdie-Greenaway, and NLI Senior Consultant Dr. Paulette Gerkovich to discuss the compelling, and science-backed, business case for diversity, how to build diversity in teams, and why despite feeling less comfortable, diverse teams perform better.
[00:00:06] GB: Diverse teams move slower. They’re more uncomfortable and they’re harder to manage. Take that diversity sales pitch to your CEO and don’t forget to mention that that’s why they’re smarter. Dozens of studies and decades of research have found that diverse teams are more logical, creative, and adept at identifying errors. It’s at least partly due to what scientists call cognitive elaboration. In essence, diverse teams force each other to think deeply about their beliefs and honestly interrogate their conclusions. It makes for a better work product but it can be uncomfortable. It’s why we often gravitate towards homogeneous teams. They feel smoother and safer, but we should fight that urge. So don’t get comfy. Build diverse teams that perform better. Keep listening to learn why and how, and stick around to hear a few surprises about how accurately we predict our discomfort.
I’m Gabriel Berezin, and you’re listening to Your Brain At Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. We continue to draw our episodes from a weekly webinar series the NLI has been hosting every Friday. This week, our panel consists of NLI’s Co-founder and CEO, Dr. David Rock, NLI’s Senior Consultant, Dr. Paulette Gerkovich, and social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, Dr. Valerie Purdie Greenaway. Enjoy.
[00:01:28] DR: Thanks very much, Gabe. Valerie, thanks so much for joining. It’s great to get to spend some time with you talking and Paulette as well. Great to have you with us.
[00:01:36] VPG: Absolutely.
[00:01:36] DR: I have an admission to make, a guilty confession, which is that quite often I use these Fridays as an opportunity to actually talk to people I really want to talk to. I’ve been dying to catch up with you, Valerie, so finally get to have an hour with you. You’re one of the brightest, smartest people in this whole space and just doing such interesting work, so I’m excited to be here and get to catch up with you. I know if I’m excited, people often are too.
Then also my other confession is that I often schedule these topics as things I really want to understand better, and I really want to understand the mechanics of why diverse teams are smarter but don’t feel that way. I’m really curious to go a few clicks deeper than we already have, we’ve gone into it. So I’m excited about the session.
We basically got our heads around this question like why is it that diverse teams are smarter and in what way, and we publish this first piece. It’s become kind of a big piece in not just our work but widely shared across DEI. What we wanted to do today was kind of go a few clicks into this question, kind of revisit this question because it’s really topical and really understand this.
Anyway, let’s dig in. Valerie, let’s hear from you first of all. I mean, what are the ways that diverse teams are smarter? Maybe you kick off. Then, Paulette, you can add some in there. In what ways are diverse teams actually smarter?
[00:02:52] VPG: First of all, thank you. There’s been so much work that has happened in the past 10 years. I love being part of the NeuroLeadership community because you’re the best I think in the world in taking the sort of geeky science that’s in our laboratories and then actually making it usable. So thank you for continuing.
[00:03:10] DR: Tell us about your lab because I’m just assuming everyone knows you, and I’ve got a terrible experience bias already. Tell us about your lab and who you are, yeah.
[00:03:17] VPG: Yes. Well, I’m a psychologist by training. Another way to think about it, it also comes under the rubric of a behavioral scientist. My laboratory, which is literally in the basement without windows, takes people from all over the United States, all over the world that are unsuspecting, just want to be part of research. We try to understand human behavior. My specialty is diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. So I’ve conducted studies on the impact of diversity on performance. What does performance mean? What does diversity actually look like?
We’ve done research on some of the biological underpinnings of bias, done some work on collective intelligence both in the world of education and also organizations. But a lot of it really comes from starting off with companies and saying what are the problems that organizations are trying to solve. Going to the laboratory where you can look at tight causality and trying to understand the mechanisms and then trying to go back into the world and share. So it’s busy times, incredible times this past year but also really important.
[00:04:25] DR: Great. That’s really helpful, and I’ve got an image of you in the basement with no light and unsuspecting.
[00:04:29] VPG: No light.
[00:04:31] DR: Freaking unsuspecting executives into telling you what they really think. That’s great. Keep up the good work. Paulette, did you want to add something there?
[00:04:39] PG: My perspective is a little bit different, having done diversity research way back when including the first study that showed a connection between gender diversity and financial performance. But my confession is I’ve used so much of this NLI work long before it came to the organization. It had a diversity at a few organizations like McKinsey and Micron Technology. At Micron particularly, these articles that we’re talking about today were what really swayed a leadership team who had no experience with a diversity effort before that this was an incredibly important thing to do.
Of course, these are an organization filled with engineers, but they were really compelled by and ended up putting a lot of energy into the DNI effort in part because of what they learned from this research. So thank you in many ways.
[00:05:34] DR: That’s great to know. Yeah. I remiss an interview introducing both of you formally. I’ve got such an experience bias of assuming everyone knows you because we’ve been around for a while. But, yeah, Paulette comes to us as a chief diversity officer of many esteemed organizations before working with us and applying the work internally. Then we’re so grateful to have you with us, Paulette.
Let’s get to the question. With all that background, in what ways are diverse teams smarter? Maybe, Valerie, do you want to start on that?
[00:05:56] VPG: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a couple ways. I mean, the first way is that diverse teams, people sort of talk about this idea that diverse teams breed innovative thinking. The reason why that happens is because of cognitive elaboration. What that means is that people are thinking with a greater depth of thought. They are thinking about counterfactuals like, “We should be thinking about this in a different way.” They are slowing down, so they’re sort of able to sort of absorb information from others. They’re engaged in greater perspective taking where they have to sort of think about a problem from multiple people’s perspectives.
There’s a lot of benefits I think at this sort of cognitive level when you think about just what makes innovation happen, but the catalyst is diversity. Then there’s also these other benefits where people feel included in the sense that all of us have something about ourselves that’s a little bit different, quirky, potentially marginalized, historically discriminated against. Then when you see a group of individuals around you that’s a little bit different, it sort of fosters this sense of inclusion, like my perspective or my identity has something to contribute.
So there are those kind of emotional affective benefits and then there’s also sort of the cognitive benefits. This is really kind of at the small, what we call the micro level when you’re looking at teams and performance.
[00:07:25] DR: I want to actually do some cognitive elaboration on cognitive elaboration. I actually haven’t heard that term before. I love new terms like that. It reminds me of a concept of spreading activation in the brain where you’ve got a network that’s kind of active. Then sometimes, it’s active enough that it starts connecting to other networks. That kind of happens when you go from, say, thinking about an idea to talking about an idea.
[00:07:47] VPG: Yes.
[00:07:47] DR: Same idea. When it’s just in your head, you sort of see a few things. Then you start saying it out loud to a few people. You make broader connections. It spreads. Then now you say it to 100 people, big spreading activation, all these other implications. Is it similar, like the elaboration effect?
[00:08:02] VPG: Yeah. It’s very similar but it’s that people are doing that within this small group. For example, we’re trying to launch a new product. What you really want, at least at the beginning, you want to have 10 or 15 ideas. Well, what cognitive elaboration means is that you’ll come up with those 15 ideas instead of those 5 ideas. Then one kind of generates another, and it generates another. The question people often ask is why does that happen. This is kind of the interesting trick related to diversity. It’s not a trick. It’s sort of rooted in sort of basic science, which is that if I’m sort of come to a group and I assume that we’re all the same, we’ll do exactly what we just did at the beginning of this broadcast. It’s experience bias. You know what I’m thinking, you know what I do, I know what you do, and then you kind of don’t sort of slow down and go through all the different sort of cognitive steps.
All that cognitive elaboration means in this context is if I assume that you know something I don’t know. I know something that you don’t know. Then it starts to allow you to sort of think more deeply, more carefully. You think about counterfactuals, and that’s kind of what starts that engine of innovation.
[00:09:21] DR: Yeah. I know it’s really interesting. I remember when I was doing this research some years back. One of the insights that really was helpful to me in sort of understanding and explaining it was thinking about team intelligence. There’s a concept called team intelligence that came out of largely MIT. Anita Woolley and Chris Chabris and others worked on that. It’s a really interesting concept. It turns out the teams have an IQ that is fairly independent of the topic, just like an individual who’s smarter, tends to be smarter across many things. Teams have that same thing that was independent of content. It was also fairly stable across time and also fairly stable between teams, so you have a team that always would win, a team who always seemed to be number two.
But the big surprise in that research was that the best teams, the smartest teams, as long as the tasks involved some kind of collaboration at all, the best teams actually didn’t have the highest average IQ or even individual IQ. It was actually they were the most inclusive. They didn’t choose words. They said the most turn-taking, the most allowing for their different language. But it was literally you needed that aspect. So team IQ is a real thing, and I think it’s been helpful to explain the benefits of diversity at the level of, “Look, your teams are actually smarter in a bunch of ways.”
[00:10:38] VPG: Yes, absolutely. What’s great about that, what’s so interesting and I think important about that study and I think about it when I work with organizations. I think about it as I’m always trying to improve the dynamics of my own teams and labs, faculty meetings. The mechanism there was perspective taking that I’m sort of thinking about a problem and trying to think about it from others’ perspectives that are on that team and turn taking. Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re creating an egalitarian sort of flat kind of culture, and what’s interesting is when you look.
I know, Paulette, you can speak to this. When you look at the research on diversity on boards and how does that impact board performance, it’s not just diversity on boards. It’s not just women on boards. You also have to create an egalitarian culture. You have to have voice. You have to have turn taking. You have to have people feeling like their say is valuable, and those are the mechanisms that starts to lead the diversity that you’re fostering to reap the benefits.
[00:11:43] PG: Yeah. I think that’s so, so important and that’s the piece when folks talk about that research that I think is often missed. You have to – In some areas, we use the term manage the diversity well, but do exactly the kinds of things you’re saying. If you just throw a bunch of diverse folks into a room, give them a task, and walk away, having done nothing else, it’s not necessarily going to go very well. It’s probably going to go quite badly, in fact. But those other things need to be in place.
Taking that research around women on boards one step further, the Sloan study that we’re actually talking about, shows that gender has an impact because women tend to bring some of those other skills. The perspective taking becomes more important, for example, more inclusive in terms of inviting others to share their opinions. That shows just how that one element of diversity can actually impact these softer things that some of the research shows really matters.
[00:12:45] VPG: Yeah.
[00:12:46] DR: The other piece that really sort of jumped out for me. I think it’s worth pointing to is the other thing that’s really interesting to me in the research is that diverse teams, and I’m going to add that are inclusive, weren’t just better at kind of being factual. We talked about that in the article. It’s not that they were just logical. They were also more creative but they also would find errors better. In effect, they were logical creative and problem solvers. That’s really all types of thinking, so they’re actually smarter in all ways.
Some people might just think, “Well, if we get a diverse team, they’ll just be a bit more creative.” But it turns out to be a much more robust effect across really all types of thinking. Do you want to speak to that, Valerie?
[00:13:24] VPG: Absolutely. I think that essentially what we’re doing at this moment is defining and refining cognitive elaboration. You’re making fewer errors, and the reason why you’re making fewer errors is because you are able to look at the same problem from multiple different perspectives. You are able – You’re sort of slowing down, and so you’re using sort of cognitive retrieval. The inverse of that, and I’m sure we’ll get to this, is that homogeneous teams feel great. There’s a short way to think about is kind of strong and wrong. Even though that’s kind of a strong statement, but homogeneous teams oftentimes are working much more quickly, but they’re lacking some of that depth.
What that means is that they’re not always going to perform worse but that kind of depth of thought and perspective taking that you need, particularly when you’re trying to build something new, you’re trying to brainstorm, you’re trying to think in a different way, which is essential today. I mean, we’re in our homes because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. So we’re still trying to think about how to do less with more, how to think differently. These are the moments where we really need to benefit from the counterfactual thinking, the sort of depth of thought, as opposed to kind of the smooth sailing.
I remember working with one organization, and they kind of started in a really sort of simple way where at the beginning they were designing this particular kind of fabric. Typically, what they did is they had the engineers work on it first and then they had the marketing team come in. They had the sales team come in. What they did is before we even build and construct this fabric, we’re going to have the sales people, the marketing people. We’re going to have our global team in China, India. We’re going to have that diversity from the beginning, before we even start to engineer this product. What that did is they would argue that they wound up with a much better product, a much more compelling way to market it. Also, they had a big boost in feelings of inclusion and belongingness embrace from the beginning.
[00:15:28] DR: That’s great. Diverse teams are smarter, but they need to be inclusive. If they’re not inclusive, you don’t get the benefits. It’s a really important insight from the research, and there’s many, many studies supporting that. We might do a new piece of writing on that, like don’t forget the inclusion. We should probably do something on that.
This sort of brings me to a question I’ve been mulling over, and we talked briefly about this, but is it the diverse teams are always smarter or are there situations where they’re more smarter or where it’s more important? Or should we think homogeneously about diverse teams? Or should we think in a diverse way about diverse teams, if I may say there, yeah? What are you seeing out there in the research?
[00:16:06] VPG: Yeah. Well, I think that this is probably the next most important question. There is no condition under which everything works well all the time. I often think about the stories about sort of Wild West of Silicon Valley when you get your group of friends in a garage and you can sort of build something really quickly because you all know each other and you know how you think. There are likely conditions where you don’t always require diversity in terms of the benefits of performance. That leads to the question of what are the other benefits, the feelings of inclusion, the lower rates of turnover, the idea that your company looks new and fresh and not kind of older and stale.
What that leads me to think about is the conditions under which I think diversity is incredibly important in terms of reaping performance is when you’re trying to troubleshoot, when you’re trying to innovate and build something new, when you’re thinking about sort of strategy and development. Those are probably the moments where it’s more and more important. Industries that require innovation and change are going to need that more.
[00:17:17] DR: That’s everyone now.
[00:17:18] VPG: Which I was about to say. That’s – Of course, it’s essentially everyone. But then there’s that other piece which is that all of the kind of interesting research. I mean, millennials, I hate to say this for those of you that are out there, but millennials are now in their mid-30s. It’s kind of definitely part of the workforce. But when you look at millennials and then you look at the generation below that, Generation Z, they don’t think of diversity as a value-add. They think of it as sort of an essential criteria to what is new and fresh and innovative. That leads to the feeling that I can bring my whole self to work.
[00:17:54] DR: Right. Yeah. I know it’s a good point. Now, you’re kind of segueing here to a question I want to ask you as well. Maybe, Paulette, you can weigh in on this, but it’s a really interesting question. We often get asked, “All right. We need more diversity. Can we get away with just cognitive diversity? What if we are accidentally hiring all from one gender and one race, but they all think differently? Is that okay?” What do we know about the different types of diversity, and how important is it to have lots of types of diversity to get the benefits of the higher team IQ? What do you know about that?
[00:18:25] PG: I think about this a lot. I’ll start with an unscientific story and then I’ll answer your question. But one of my sort of long-time colleagues, friends conciliary is a white American. He’s Jewish. We visually look differently but we were trained in the same university, with the same advisor. I mean, if you want to know what I’m thinking, ask that person. I say that because it’s not always the case that visual diversity breeds cognitive diversity. I think that we have to be really smart about this. I mean, there’s sort of functional diversity, and that’s when you have people that are coming from different industries. You have demographic diversity, which is what are the demographic characteristics that some are visual, some are invisible? There’s sort of value diversity, the idea that people are bringing different sort of values into the workplace.
What the research seems to show, and this is also in a very nice paper from NLI, is that the value of identity diversity and demographic diversity is that more times than not, it brings a different perspective. It doesn’t always sort of in the case that I sort of shared. But more times than not, it does. The problem is people and most organizations aren’t really measuring that, and that kind of leads to me that this leads to the kinds of what are you asking at the recruiting hiring phase. Are you asking who is it that fits in or are you asking what are we missing and what do we need to add to our group, to our theme? We need to think about culture as additive and not as sort of fitting in.
[00:20:03] DR: That’s interesting.
[00:20:04] PG: I’m sort of saying a lot of different things. But I think to sort of answer your question, one, we need to be much more precise about the kind of diversity we need. Two, I think organizations have known for a long time that functional diversity is important for innovation. But number three, this demographic diversity can also facilitate that kind of functional diversity.
[00:20:27] DR: Right. We wrote a piece on this around identity diversity matters. We did a piece on the importance of identity diversity, and I love that you started with the counterfactual story. But on average, identity diversity will have some bumps over and over just called university. In that piece, we kind of articulate why that happens and how it happens, and there’s an important effect. I’m also a bit of a fan of socio-economic diversity. Maybe you mean that by when you talk about demographic, but you need people who’ve been successful with their lives also, people who’ve struggled with their lives, and they see the world really differently.
[00:21:00] PG: Yeah. I remember hearing an executive talk about this idea that he grew up in a small, small area in the Caribbean, and his whole ethos was do what you can with what you have and just make it work. He was absolutely sort of confident that the lack of what he didn’t have growing up allowed him to be successful when there were all kinds of austerity measures. He was actually able to flourish and excel because he had a different way of don’t ask for more resources but do what you have. But my point is part of leadership is also understanding what is the diversity that you’re actually bringing because we all have some of that that can sort of contribute to the mix.
[00:21:44] DR: It’s interesting. I’ve been looking to grow our organization quite a bit. We’re more than 200 people, and we’re starting to really grow and kind of thinking about completely different ways of thinking I want to bring into the organization. I may hire like an activist who’s like really understands activism as kind of a whole field and how to organize movements and start movements and make them happen because in many ways we create movements inside companies. So we’re looking to sort of build an activist division. They’re not necessarily neuroscientists but they understand activism.
I’m also thinking kind of musically. We want to bring in people who just have different kinds of creativity, whether it’s music or art or different ways to just think about how we generate insight in different ways. We’ve been thinking about completely different ways of seeing the world and trying to add those to our team to expand.
[00:22:31] DR: Hi there. David Rock here, CEO and Co-Founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute. On behalf of our team at NLI, I’d like to thank you for listening and for staying up to date with all the latest neuroscience and industry research that helps us make organizations more human. We know you have a lot going on, and we appreciate you following the science and following us. I wanted to make one simple request. If you’re enjoying Your Brain At Work, please pass on this podcast to a colleague or friend. Help us share these insights and spread the word in our mission to build a better normal for everyone.
[00:23:04] VPG: Another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the importance of neurodiversity. In the world of education, people think about it in terms of equity, like we need to be nice and we need to create a more equitable society. But when you think about the value of neurodiversity, when we think about autism, we think about Asperger’s, we think about what has previously been thought of as limitations is also another way to contribute to what does the organization benefit from. I think what the most important thing is that there has to be clarity.
I have found, and you see this as well, in many organizations, there’s the diversity statement. There’s the inclusion statement on the website. But when you sort of really dig in and you ask leaders what does it mean, what does it look like, what are the different types, when does it work for you, what does diversity look like in this organization, not another organization, do you see a lot of blank stares? The sharpness and the precision of what the benefits are for your organization and your industry then help to sort of reap the benefits because you see a lot of hand-wringing. I think of it just like you think of any other kind of strategy in the organization.
[00:24:18] PG: You’re really making something click for me, Valerie. When I was at TIAA CREF, we started to focus on recruiting neurodiversity very specifically for two reasons. One, there was a skill set there in the financial arena just beyond phenomenal. Secondly, this was a group who could really think about targeting financial products in a way that nobody else could, in a way that targeted other neurodiverse individuals. That became a very formal concerted effort, which I thought was just fascinating.
To David’s point about the activism and sort of thinking beyond how we typically define diversity, I’m thinking of some of this work by Scott Page. He’s a political scientist. He’s doing so much work, and I just love him. But I have to say one beef I’ve got is that he talks about at the end of the day the fact that what we really want in terms of diversity is cognitive, experiential, temperament, work style, those sorts of diversity. To your point, Valerie, identity diversity brings that, so we almost use it as a proxy sometimes for bringing different types of style or thinking diversity.
But the one thing I think that piece misses is that whole social justice element, and we are hearing so much from chief diversity officers in the last year that this is becoming part of their job. We’re not just wanting to make this case around diverse teams simply perform better, but this is a social justice issue. I think that’s something we really want to start thinking about more deeply as well.
[00:25:59] VPG: I love that you’re saying that, and that kind of goes back to what is your why. I know in my own laboratory I started off with the idea that I want to build and craft and cultivate and mentor a future generation of scientists that are not created in my image, that are sort of different in a variety of different ways. I learned about the sort of intellectual benefits after the fact, and so I was like, “Wow.” My laboratory, when you look at sort of what is my reputation, it’s for developing some of the most creative research. That’s my reputation, and it comes from bringing in people that come from very non-traditional backgrounds. The issue of social justice also gets tied into what is the right thing to do, why do you want to have diversity. But those benefits are still there.
[00:26:51] DR: I like what you’re saying, and we might move on to the second piece. But I really like what you’re saying that organizations should be clear on what kinds of diversity really matter to them and why and come from a really clear place in that. That’s interesting. We should do some more research on that, Paulette, for later. But sort of see if we can identify the best companies doing this and what some of the patterns are. I think it’s a really interesting point, important point, getting their why right.
[00:27:15] VPG: It doesn’t have to be the same for every single branch of the same organization. You might think about social justice at one phase. You might think about performance benefits on another phase. It really –
[00:27:25] DR: It depends on the place.
[00:27:26] VPG: Yeah. Every place is different.
[00:27:27] DR: Let me summarize before we get to chapter two. Diverse teams are smarter. There are points at which that matters the most. It probably always matters, but the point at which it matters most is when there’s innovation happening, troubleshooting, maybe building a future vision, getting that right, mind setting strategy. That it’s because of cognitive elaboration, people literally thinking more deeply, more widely, more broadly. As long as there’s inclusion, it’s making the team smarter across all types of smarts. You’d imagine hearing all that that your felt experience of diversity would be like, “Wow, that was great being in that diverse team.” We solved much bigger problems, and it would take off like wildfire. You’d think that diversity would take off like TikTok. Everyone has it, but it hasn’t.
What’s going on there, and this brings us sort of to the second topic of today, why is it that we don’t have diversity everywhere. There’s a lot of ways to think about that and answer that without getting too kind of historical and sociopolitical, but one of the reasons I believe, and maybe you can challenge me on this, but I think it’s just that they literally feel less comfortable. It’s such an interesting point. IN fact, this piece that we wrote summarizes a bunch of different studies showing that the discomfort is actually necessary. That if you’re with a diverse and inclusive team and everyone’s just absolutely fine and there’s no discomfort whatsoever, there’s no kind of challenging each other at all, you don’t get the same levels of benefits. In other words, people need to feel a little uncomfortable to get the benefits of diversity and inclusion.
Valerie, take us away on this. Start with – Maybe, Paulette, you can share a bit more. I’ve been gibbering on a bit too much. Why is it that we feel uncomfortable in a diverse team? Tell us what’s going on here.
[00:29:07] VPG: Yeah. I think maybe a more precise way to think about it is less about why do we feel less uncomfortable in diverse teams, but it’s more like why do we feel so comfortable when the team is homogeneous. Because it’s not that you feel like there’s a massive conflict. It’s more that homogeneous teams feel great. It feels great. I mean, you grew up in the same neighborhood. You went to the same school. There’s that really interesting research that shows when people either actually or believe they share the same birthday, even the same birthday month. They think they have something in common. So it’s just sort of I’m a big cyclist. I can smooth the chain over really, really, really quickly. The problem is you don’t get that that cognitive elaboration.
If you start with there, is that homogeneous teams feel great, and it’s sort of like closing the door to your office, and it’s like, “Ah.” Some people are like, “I can just be myself.”
[00:29:59] DR: That’s interesting.
[00:30:00] VPG: Yeah. That takes and I often feel that when I’m just amongst a group of the very esoteric specific brands of psychology. I came from social psychology. It’s like, “Ah, we’re all speaking the same language.” A, the question is are you. B, is that the right language? Could you actually benefit from a broader pie?
That leads to the second piece which is that there is a little bit of sort of tension. I wouldn’t call it friction but I’d call it tension. That comes from diverse teams, and what that literally manifests in is sort of the hesitancy, so who’s going to speak first when it’s a team meeting. All of the sort of fluidity where people are stumbling over each other’s words in a meeting or even in a virtual environment. There’s worry about offending others, but here’s what I will say. When you look at the research, the perception is worse than the reality. So when you ask people ahead of time, when they believe that they’re going to be on a diverse team and they ask how is that team going to feel like to you, people are more likely to say that there’s going to be conflict, and it’s going to be less fun.
Relative to when they’re actually on the team, there’s much less tension than they predicted that there would be. One of the reasons why I would argue is that there’s kind of like why isn’t diversity just everywhere. Well, at that moment, when you’re either cultivating, hiring, fostering, you’re anticipating more conflict than there actually is.
[00:31:35] DR: It’s so interesting. It’s not so much that diverse teams are really uncomfortable. It’s that we think they could be and that we are aware that the homogeneous teams feel so darn comfy.
[00:31:45] VPG: Yes.
[00:31:46] DR: It’s interesting.
[00:31:47] VPG: The idea is even when they don’t. I mean, there could be a shouting match going on, but that’s not what you encode and remember. You remember we all went to the same school and just yay us. It’s part of these kind of biases that are always part of just how the brain works. The tension is less and also that tension is what slows you down just enough to start thinking in sort of more richer ways.
[00:32:15] DR: Interesting. Paulette, you want to weigh in here, any piece of this really? There’s so much to say, but I want to make sure you get it.
[00:32:20] PG: Yeah. No, there is so much. One of the things that’s been going through my mind as you’re talking is I wonder how much of this does change generationally Gen Z in particular. Just thinking anecdotally about asking groups why is diversity important. I’m more and more hearing from Gen Z because it’s fun. I want to work on diverse teams. This is a priority for me when I’m looking for an organization to work with. I need to work with diversity, which is very, very different than answers that you would hear from different generations and very different, Valerie, than the research you’re talking about where folks do really anticipate that level of discomfort. Suddenly, we’re hearing this is something we know we need to have, and it’s fun.
[00:33:06] VPG: Yes. But the interesting question is what is that fun and excitement, and part of that fun and excitement is that you got to do something a little bit differently. You got to show up a little.
[00:33:15] PG: Retention, exactly.
[00:33:17] DR: You’ve got me thinking about how powerful that in-group effect is and you really changed my whole brain around this. I always thought the effect was that diverse teams are uncomfortable, but it might just be homogeneous teams are so nice.
[00:33:28] VPG: I think about this a lot. I mean, I love being on homogeneous. Sometimes, it feels like a brush of fresh air and it feels familiar. But then particularly in the world that I live in, which is research, you know something is amiss if no one’s questioning each other. You know something is a little bit amiss.
[00:33:46] DR: Right. In academia, for sure. Same in our company. If everyone agrees, no one’s paying attention, that’s true. I’m thinking about a friend I’ve had for years. When we met, we discovered that we both lived in like one suburb apart in Sydney. She’s also Australian. Fathers have the same job. We went to the same beaches. We were on the same train line every day for six years. Never met each other but went to similar schools, and we became such good friends. We just had so many things in common and we were – But it was just because we had this commonality, and it just feels so comfortable. It’s interesting. I’m going to have to think more about that. Homogeneous teams feel so good, so we’re just drawn to them and we keep creating them.
We’ve actually helped some companies take out some critical questions from their hiring process in relation to this. There’s one. For example, a professional services firm. One of their questions was would I have a beer with this person. We said, “Oh, don’t ask that because then you’re going to hire people that are similar, that you do feel comfy with.” It was skewing them towards creating the same homogeneous culture.
[00:34:45] VPG: The other piece is that it’s baked into that assumption is that everyone drinks alcohol, which we know based on religion, not everybody, even –
[00:34:53] DR: All Australians or everyone does.
[00:35:00] VPG: The other thing is that I’m thinking back to Paulette, what you were saying. When you look across almost every industry, where is the diversity? The diversity is much, much greater at the junior levels of the organization and then the sort of less and less at the senior ranks. The argument that people make is that’s the pipeline and that we just need to keep beating the pipeline. But I actually think this homogeneous fun argument is even more persuasive than the pipeline. That is to say that when you’re at the level of leadership, you almost think it’s essential to have that trust, the word hanging out together. We’re spending lots of time together, and so the drive for homogeneity is just much stronger.
[00:35:41] DR: I saw some research on the real breakdown in diversity is the first run. It’s basically all employees. There’s good diversity. As soon as you get to first time manager, the diversity plummets. That’s really the place, and so that’s an interesting thing. There’s a couple of questions. Paulette, do you want to pull out some of the questions and kind of tackle some of these? I know there’s some around kind of the metrics. We’ve got about five more minutes.
[00:36:02] PG: Several people have asked, how do we measure inclusion. So we know how to measure diversity to a certain extent. We typically measure the same things diversity-wise. But more importantly, how do we know we’re being inclusive in a way that allows us to benefit from the diversity in the room?
[00:36:21] VPG: That’s a great question. I’ll sort of share a few ideas from my vantage point, and maybe the two you could also chime in. I think what the normal go-to are pulse surveys and asking questions about people’s perceptions of inclusion. I think that that’s one level. I think that a much more compelling level is to think about networks, and the reasons why is that the networks that people are in tell you both about the diversity of the organization, as well as inclusion. So I might be motivated in a survey to say I feel quite included. But then if you look at who am I connected to, how many steps away from the CEO or CFO am I, who do I actually feel like are being mentors, and you could do it by initials. There’s ways to de-identify network measures. You start to really see how inclusion in terms of the integrative aspects of a person and a team are.
The second reason why I think that’s compelling is sometimes entire teams are segregated from the rest of the organization, and they’re kind of way off somewhere. I think that there’s this perception of inclusion, how do I feel. Then there’s the behavioral elements, which I think that network measures which they’re pretty easy to collect. They’re a little bit challenging to analyze. But this is what you do. This is what NLI does. I’m sure you have lots of metrics on this.
[00:37:45] DR: Yeah. I mean, the organizational network analysis is a great tool for identifying actual behaviors and what’s really happening. I really agree with that. We’ve played with that a bit. It’s such an interesting one. I mean, we think in terms of priorities, habits, and systems. We’ve got an assessment of systems now, and we call it a coherence analysis, and we actually will measure your systems for inclusion, as well as for bias as well, as for the kind of mindset that they’re developing. We have some assessments that come in and literally kind of mystery shop all your talent systems. We can tell you, “Hey, this is going to create inclusion. This isn’t. This is going to create bias. This isn’t.” It’s something we’ve been doing for the last two or three years. It’s become quite popular now
We also look at the level of habits, so we’re really interested in how many times a week did you apply this kind of habit or see this kind of habit happening. I think there are ways to measure it. I mean, we’ve always been in the habit activation business more than the measurement business, so it’s the last few years we’ve started measuring, but you can measure some things there. Paulette, do you want to add in there as well?
[00:38:42] PG: First of all, I’m so glad that we’re talking about this, and one of the things that struck me is when you do something like look at behaviors, rather than asking folks if they feel included, you’re getting around some of the bias that exists based on certain elements of diversity. We know from the research that women tend to do networking differently and sometimes not as well when we talk about networking in the sense that we’ve historically used in organizations and that men tend to just be better at doing and using that as a way to advance their career. We know that people of color and within that African American black, Asian, Latinx network differently or included in networks differently. That’s something that looking at the behaviors and the systems, rather than asking folks how they feel about being included will on earth.
We’re also getting other questions, and I think this one is really interesting. How do you balance between diversity and inclusion and preserving the company culture, especially if it’s company culture that you really value?
[00:39:52] DR: I want to say one quick thing. I’ve heard from a number of companies that they were panicked, that senior leaders were panicked that when there was going to be this big work-from-home thing that culture would vanish, and they’d be on boarding all these people who never saw an office, and they’d have no culture. It turned out to be the opposite was that what the work-from-home thing did is actually create a unified culture between a San Francisco office, a Denver officer, A New York office. Actually, there’s one culture now, and people pick up the social norms through even telephoning. Never mind video. They pick up very quickly the social norms. I think that sometimes culture is different than what you expect. But, Valerie, your comment on this, how will it affect culture?
[00:40:28] VPG: Yeah. Well, I think about this a lot as well because, one, is that when you look at the literature, the relationship between diversity and company culture is that when you have a very, very strong company culture, you have sort of rules, regulations, practices, guidebooks that it has a very taxing impact, particularly on people that are bringing something different to the table. There can be this dissonance if you will between we want someone who’s different and thinks differently or may look differently or comes from a group or perspective that hasn’t been represented. Then it’s like, “But you have to read this guidebook, and we have these policies and practices.” and it creates this lack of alignment. That is one thing to look out for. The question is not to change your company culture. That’s for the company to decide, but just to understand that dissonance and that dissonance can lead to turnover. I think that that’s the first thing is sort of is your organizational culture strong or weak.
I think the second concept that I’ve been thinking about is culture ad versus culture fit and the idea around culture. There’s a lot of interesting articles that are starting to come out about this idea of culture ad, which is at the level of hiring, asking the question rather than asking a candidate how did they fit in or assessing how they fit in. It’s sort of starting with your organization and saying what are we missing, what kind of perspectives and viewpoints need to be added, what do we need to change to make sure that the people that we’re bringing in are sort of contributing to the maximum of their ability. Sometimes, people say, “Oh, there’s like all these like minor shifts.” But I actually think that’s quite fundamental because the focus is on the organization and what we need to add, rather than the candidate and how they need to fit in.
[00:42:16] DR: That’s great. I love culture ad versus culture fit, and I think that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, like I need to add some artists and musicians and activists and others to kind of balance out the strong science we’ve done. I want to wrap up in a minute. Just before we do, I have one closing question for you, Valerie, a really important one. Valerie, a closing question for you. What are you inspired by at the moment? What’s inspiring you? What are you passionate about?
[00:42:38] VPG: You always do this to me where you always have these surprise questions that I can’t think through. I have to admit that last year has been probably the most difficult in my career personally and professionally. You think of the death of George Floyd, the elections, the pandemic, just trying every day not to be sick. I have to say that last March, literally a year ago, I said to myself diversity is over. No one’s going to care about this anymore. The focus is going to be on the pandemic.
[00:43:08] DR: It’s what we’re saying. Yeah.
[00:43:09] VPG: I also thought that it was going to become less important because just preserving any organization that’s going to come to the floor. What I have found and what I’ve been most inspired by is that I was wrong. I hate to say that because I want to be right all the time. But I’m wrong and many tragedies have happened along the way. But here’s what I see. For the first time, I hear organizations saying that social justice and racial justice is important, and it’s a priority. We have been asked to give presentations on what an anti-racist culture looks like and what are the systems of racism that are in place that we need to sort of unearth. We have seen a global diversity sort of really take off. The idea is not to flatten the planet when we’re all on Zoom, but really how do you leverage the global diversity.
We’ve been talking about global diversity is beyond being sensitive to time zones forever. Now, people are like, “This is really real.” I am inspired that there’s a real seriousness about diversity inclusion, equity, and anti-racism. I think that that really keeps me going. I mean, the kinds of questions that really seemed thin and anemic before are people are asking personally, organizations are asking. I’m inspired by that. I really am.
[00:44:34] DR: It’s great to see and I felt the same way. I thought it was the end of DEI for a year or two with survival and then it’s just – I mean, sort of everything to do with really caring about humans just really came to the fore in powerful ways and DEI in a huge way but also mental health and resilience, all sorts of things. There’s been a lot of moving things. I’m actually writing a piece at the moment about the human spring as opposed to the Arab Spring that actually there’s this kind of uprising of humanity.
Look. We do need to wrap up, Valerie. I just want to say thank you so, so much for joining us. As I expected, this was an awesome conversation. Finally getting –
[00:45:06] VPG: It flew by so fast.
[00:45:08] DR: I know. Paulette, as well thank you so much for all the work you’re doing in the team and out there in the world. But, Valerie, just amazing to get to chat. Lots and lots of ideas, lots of stuff I want to follow up with you about. Keep up the incredible work.
[00:45:20] VPG: Thank you and thank you to all of you and what NLI represents and continues to do. It is not easy work, so thank you.
[00:45:27] DR: Finally, people paying attention now, which is wonderful, so it’s great. Thank you so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:45:31] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producers are Cliff David, Matt Holodak, and Danielle Kirshenblat. Our executive producer is me, Gabriel Berezin. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky, and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.