In terms of South Africa’s Employment Equity Act, affirmative action includes “making reasonable accommodation for people from designated groups in order to ensure that they enjoy equal opportunities and are equitably represented”. This article’s intention is not to question these processes and the thinking behind them, but it is unfortunate that the legislative context hampers the true meaning of diversity. In this context, diversity is believed to be limited to race and gender, whereas an inclusive workforce means much more.
Diversity can be divided into two types: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity refers to traits you are born with, such as gender and ethnicity. Acquired diversity focuses on traits you gain from experience. South Africa’s affirmative action plan aims at addressing inherent diversity.
This article will explore two different meanings of diversity in the workplace: Thought diversity and Neurodiversity.
We all think differently and there is no one way of thinking that has been agreed upon as correct. What is agreed however, is that the way we think governs the way we work. Research shows that, while we are all capable of thinking in various ways, most people have a preferred way of approaching and solving problems.
An American psychologist Robert Sternberg developed the Triarchic Model of Intelligence which encompasses three different types of intelligence: analytical, creative and practical. When applying this to a team at work solving a problem, the most effective combination is to have at least one person who is logical; at least one person who sees things from a different or unusual perspective; and one who is knowledgeable about the processes involved. Understanding your preferred style and the style of others in the team increases the likelihood of effective problem-solving. Dr Judy Chartrand, went on to describe seven different thinking styles: Analytical, Inquisitive, Insightful, Open-Minded, Systematic, Timely, and Truth-seeking.
The point is that there are various ways of classifying and looking at thinking styles, but there is agreement that thinking styles vary across individuals. According to a study by Deloitte, cultivating “diversity of thought” at your business can boost innovation and creative problem-solving and guard against the phenomenon of GroupThink.
Neurodiveristy is a fairly new concept that was developed in the 1990s. Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds. This concept posits that neurological differences such as as Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum and Tourette syndrome are simply a result of normal variations in the human genome.
Neurodiversity in the workplace is gaining attention. It has been suggested that neurodiversity in the workplace provides a competitive advantage. The skills of people who are not ‘neurotypical’ are now being viewed as strengths. For example, people with autism often have enhanced perceptual functioning, high levels of concentration and technical ability; people with Dyslexia often have strong spatial intelligence and entrepreneurial tendencies. People with ADHD are often hyper focused, creative and inventive.
About two years ago, Ernst & Young embarked on a programme to hire individuals with Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s syndrome often have average or above-average levels of intelligence and are often highly educated but may experience significant social difficulties. These 4 new recruits were placed in the Accounting support function and were provided with training that included looking at soft skills, work ethic, expectations and how to communicate. The 4 individuals hired were found to be incredibly detail-orientated and good at process-driven work.
The Danish software company, Specialsterne, has a workforce whereby 75% of their employees have some form of autism. The work required is routine and detailed and plays to their strengths.
The above two examples of diversity cannot be ascertained from a person’s CV alone. This speaks to a need in changing or relooking at recruitment processes that currently only focus on obvious inherent diversity.