How to Improve the Cognitive Diversity of Your Organization
Cognitive diversity (vs. protected class diversity) is about finding people who think differently. How can we encourage different thinkers in our organizations?
Hey all! As I mentioned last week, I finished my first marathon last weekend. It went surprisingly well. We finished right at the 4.5 hour mark, which was a tiny bit faster than my goal. I was pleased with things. I don't think I permanently injured anything, so I'll hope to be training again soon. I want to avoid overstating how easy it was, though. It turns out that marathons are insanely hard. Who would have thought?
I assume that hundreds of you will want to know where I got my hat from. It's a Tilley LTM5. My wife incorrectly tells me I'm only supposed to wear it while hiking (and not to places like a PTA meeting, or grocery shopping with her). If a brimmed hat was good for Indiana Jones, I feel it's good for me too.
I hope you're all having a lovely week. I'll be on vacation in Portugal starting this weekend, so it's entirely possible my next two articles will be sent a tiny bit off my normal schedule. We'll see!
When people say diversity, they often think of race, gender, and other visible characteristics. Diversity in the workplace also includes cognitive diversity, which refers to the range of thinking styles, problem-solving approaches, and perspectives that people bring to their work.
I wrote an article about the benefits of having cognitive diversity in our teams. The key is that protected class diversity can have a side effect of generating cognitive diversity, but cognitive diversity can be a goal as well.
After writing that article, I had numerous people say that they loved the focus on cognitive diversity, but they'd like to hear more about how to increase that type of diversity in their organizations.
So, that's what I'm going to do.
Find unique sources of candidates
My organization hired numerous candidates from the ADA Developers Academy, and those diverse candidates were great to have on the team. They had a different background, different work experience, and different educational background.
What broke people's minds was that these candidates were missing a lot of our expected education, background, or work experience. They didn't have a 4-year degree. They didn't code since they were 12 years old. They didn't work at a FAANG/MAMAA company. Instead, they were a nurse for years, raised some kids, and then were beginning their transition into engineering. They were junior engineers, with 15-years of leadership experience. That's just not a normal employee.
This diversity generated fantastic benefits for the team, but diversity requires work. You not only need to identify these unique candidates, but you need to understand that they won't look like a normal candidate, interview like a normal candidate, or perform like a normal candidate. If you're willing to support them, you'll have a team which can think around every corner.
Be flexible with job requirements.
While things are changing, there are still plenty of positions which require a bachelors degree, or a long list of specific work experience.
If you want your team to look at problems from a variety of angles, you need to ensure that you're not hiring people with the same background. If your entire team went to similar schools, for similar degrees, and then had a similar work experience, it's more likely that they approach problems in the same way.
Some of the most diverse approaches to engineering problems at Amazon came from the engineers without a college degree. I think there's value in formal education, and college educated candidates are great. However, employees who were successful despite skipping college tended to have a different way of thinking.
The same applies for roles expecting a purple unicorn of work experience. "Must have 5+ years of working at a higher education location, plus 6+ years at a hospital, plus 4+ years in manufacturing."
When you filter candidates to obtain a very specific type of candidate, only candidates fitting that mold will be selected. Those candidates are very specifically not diverse.
If you are looking for the benefits of diversity, you need to loosen the requirements on your candidates so that you can find a variety of candidates.