On Diversity

Diversity in hiring might be the single most important aspect of building an innovative team.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go to Dalian, China (not far from the border with North Korea) and work with a team there. The office was in Dalian’s tech quarter, and on approach, you could tell you were in the tech quarter because almost immediately the style of clothing, the posture, the shops and cafes, all began to look depressingly similar to any tech quarter you might see in London or Paris or Berlin or Vancouver or Ottawa or New York.

This got me thinking about diversity. Up to then, my thinking has always been about building diverse teams in terms of gender, LGBTQ+ representation, and a good cultural mix. But I then realised that this really isn’t enough. People tend to view and see the world the same if they share a salary structure (paid monthly for example), similar values (all went to university), and a common language (everyone has English in common) and common neurological traits (engineers), which means if your hires have a good representation across genders and ethnicities, you may not get the diversity you need to truly innovate.

At Webio, where our primary focus is on the Credit and Collections industry, often it helps us to explain to engineers what the realities are for someone who is paid weekly, or not at all if they injured themselves, or the experience that someone has if their only access to IT and the internet is through a phone and a limited data plan but engineers that have lived that experience just ‘get it’. Similarly, very few engineers have a lot of insight into the experiences of people with sight, hearing, cognitive, or mobility barriers, yet so often it is understanding these “edge cases” which is so critical to innovation. You cannot come up with something new by having the same people doing the same thing!

Once a diverse team is assembled, the next innovative key is to make sure that they stay diverse, which means letting each of the team members grow and experience and think in their own way, and not try to funnel everyone into a common corporate culture that encourages groupthink or try to mould people into your ideal. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, as long as you can let go, avoid the need to micromanage, and focus on building on people’s strengths rather than trying to break them of their weaknesses.

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