Cognitive diversity: a proactive approach

At Peridot Partners we’re proud of being a values-led consultancy. But we’re not complacent about these values.

We have an active diversity committee and all-staff diversity discussions where we assess how we are living our commitment to diversity and seek continual improvements.

Of course, much of this work has focused on ‘identity diversity’: ethnicity, gender, age etc. We recognise the importance of ensuring that our workforce, and that of our clients, is representative of the people, communities and causes we represent.

But we have also been thinking about something which has become an increasingly hot topic in recent years: ‘cognitive diversity’ – or different ways of thinking.

You’ll find lots of articles online about how ‘cognitive diversity’ helps to prevent organisational ‘groupthink’ and can create ‘disruptive’ cultures: organisations that stay ahead of the curve through innovation and reap the financial rewards this brings.

Cognitive diversity in practice

A year ago, we had a team development day. As is the norm with these sorts of events, we were divided into groups, presented with a flip-chart and asked to think about some key topics of importance to the business. What was most interesting about these discussions, was that those groups who had a diversity of thinking styles were able to generate a wider range of and more innovative ideas.

Cognitive diversity has been quite a challenging subject for me to grapple with.

Standard conversations around equality and diversity revolve around characteristics for which individuals, or indeed whole swathes of society are often discriminated against. However, cognitive diversity has largely been talked about in terms of ensuring that employers achieve the best mix of thinking styles to ensure that their company is as effective and productive as possible. So cognitive diversity could be for the benefit of the company rather than the individual.

There is a risk that employers could latch onto cognitive diversity as the key thing they need to address. This means they could lose sight of the obstacles and injustices that many people face, including disabled people, women, the BAME community, people from working-class backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realised that there is a correlation between cognitive diversity and identity diversity.

Building diverse teams, addressing bias and acting more inclusively also brings organisational benefits of greater innovation and higher productivity. As a Facebook Engineering VP said:

“You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are. We get better problem-solving that way.”

Bringing together different backgrounds and perspectives creates diversity of thought.

Cognitive diversity in recruitment

What does this mean for recruiters? Importantly we need to have a very real debate about how we recruit.

A major focus of nearly every assignment we do is to achieve a diverse range of applicants. But, at the same time, we are also tasked with finding people who ‘fit’ the organisational culture.

Clearly, the latter requirement can lead to a lack of cognitive diversity. We need to be more confident about challenging this. We need to attract a diverse range of applicants and consider people who have different views on the world.

Questions to ask yourself about cognitive diversity and recruitment:

  1. Does your advertising demonstrate you are an inclusive organisation that encourages diversity of thinking and innovation? More importantly, is that a realistic portrayal of your organisation?
  2. Can you widen the definition of what experience you need for a role so that people who have different skills and aptitudes feel able to apply?
  3. Rather than thinking about what experience and skills you need for a specific role, could you think about what challenges you need to address within your organisation and the abilities and skills you need to address?

At Peridot, diversity is crucial to the success and reputation of what we do and the organisations and people we work with. To read more, visit our page on diversity in recruitment.