There’s a lot of talk about diversity in technology companies these days, and with good reason.
A 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report found that, as a group, the high technology sector employed more men, more Asian-Americans, more white people, and less African-Americans, Hispanics, and women than private industry generally. In the technology sector white people are far more likely to hold executive positions, and women are 30% less likely to serve in an executive position than in another private sector company. While African-Americans and Hispanics represent a combined 30% of the US population, they hold less than 3% of leadership positions in technology companies. As CNET reported last week, the technology industry remains “dominated by white men”. Further, while leading companies have made commitments to improving diversity, “the needle has moved little in the past few years.”
But diversity is about more than skin color, gender, cultural background or ethnicity.
Indeed, there’s another sort of diversity that is just as essential to a company’s success: diversity of thought.
What do I mean?
Consider our team at The CoSMo Company. If someone assessed our team in terms of their cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identity we’d do wonderfully well. Our team is drawn from more than a dozen countries around the world and speak 11 different languages. In just one corner of our office our sales and marketing team counts an Australian, a Cypriot, a Mexican, three French nationals, and an Italian, too. Conversations in the office move from French to English fluidly, not to mention discussions in Spanish or other common tongues, too. CoSMo hires the best engineers, developers, and business people we can find regardless of gender, cultural background, or ethnicity, and we have since we launched.
But while our team at CoSMo is diverse in background, it is also diverse in terms of training, education, cognitive preferences and experience. Even if our developers are all at the top of their game, they didn’t learn to code in the same university. Our marketing team, for example, between them not only speaks English, French, German, and Italian, they gained their expertise in marketing in universities found everywhere from northern Italy to southern Australia. Indeed, the 72 employees at The CoSMo Company have been educated at more than 60 different universities on five different continents.
This diversity in education, in background, and experience means that when a CoSMo team gathers together to address a problem or face a challenge head on, they do so with the different perspectives that come from being trained and learning in entirely different places. The creativity that comes from smart people attacking something from different directions, with different outlooks, and with different experiences is part of what makes CoSMo a successful company. Some companies might rely on one or two individuals to do their ‘out of the box’ thinking, but at CoSMo our diversity of thought means that almost everyone on the team is thinking outside of the box of their neighbor at the desk next door and the team members of the companies we work with.
As the technology sector looks to increase diversity in its teams and especially in its executive leadership, it’s going to be important to seek out this diversity of thought, education, and experience, too. If a technology company balances their cultural, gender, and ethnic quotes perfectly but continues to recruit 90% of their staff from the graduating classes of Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Stanford, it’s not going to win the real diversity that comes from having people think differently.
Drawing together a team with different identities is important, but so is drawing together a team who didn’t learn to think in the same way as the people around them.
In the end, diversity needs to be about more than what people look like, where they were born, or what deity they worship; real diversity means recruiting people who approach the world from different angles, and as CoSMo has proven time and again, that’s the path to real innovation and success.