Can demographic diversity ensure cognitive diversity at the workplace?

For HR leaders, having a cognitively diverse workforce is critical, but demographic diversity may not always ensure cognitive diversity say some

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Today, it is not uncommon to find multinational companies speaking publicly of the men to women ratio in their organisations, or even bragging about the number of people from different ethnicities, colours or backgrounds they have in their workforce.

Is that what diversity is all about? Variety in terms of colour, language, sexuality, and so on? Not really.

Studies and progressive surveys speak of the reasons why diversity, in the true sense of the word, is important. One critical reason, which is also widely accepted by the business community is that diversity brings different perspectives to the table. This is also the crux of cognitive diversity.

“Currently, psychometric evaluations form the cornerstone of how job seekers are assessed. However, when you add layers to the recruitment process, especially skills assessment and a panel of recruiters, the entire journey becomes richer and can go a long way in bringing cognitive diversity”

Anup Seth, chief diversity & Inclusion Officer, Edelweiss Tokio Life

By definition, cognitive diversity refers to diversity of mind. It indicates variety in terms of the way people think and approach issues. For instance, people with dissimilar thought processes solving a common problem in diverse ways would be a perfect example of cognitive diversity.

“Demographic diversity is not different from cognitive diversity. Rather, it is one of the most important ingredients for a cognitively diverse workforce”

Uma Rao, VP-HR, Ashok Leyland

With cognitive diversity, an organisation is able to witness differing styles of working and learning, and varied personalities in the workforce. Together, these employees give rise to varied perspectives that further ensure sustainability.

Can demographic diversity ensure cognitive diversity?

Many people feel that demographic diversity — which usually refers to gender, age, religion, ethnicity and race — definitely leads to cognitive diversity, given the varying backgrounds people come from.

However, a demographically diverse workplace can also be cognitively uniform. That is, despite having employees from various backgrounds, regions, religions and age brackets, the workforce can still end up thinking and working alike. Here’s how.

Bias: It is not uncommon to find senior leaders and c-suite members exhibiting the tendency to hire from only a particular college or a specific institution. Then, there are certain people who believe that particular positions or vacancies should be filled by only those who possess the same amount of experience as the departing employees. There could also exist a conformation bias, which means that managers prefer to hire people whose beliefs and viewpoints are similar to their own.

Such biases lead to a demographically diverse workforce working and approaching work and issues in similar ways.

“Demographic diversity is reduced to numbers or stats in print, that simply serve to show the world how diverse a company is, but cognitive diversity is more deeply ingrained, and therefore, more important”

Aniruddha Khekale, EVP & head – HR, CG Power and Industrial Solutions

Men vs women: There are studies that prove men are more left brained. That is, they are analytical and methodical, for which they use the left side of their brain more often. Women, on the other hand, possess the ability to use both sides of their brains, which means they can be analytical as well as artistic and creative. This implies that a healthy ratio of men and women can lead to cognitive diversity.

Tanaya Mishra, global CHRO, Strides Pharma, feels that demographic diversity cannot ensure cognitive diversity. “It would be wrong to generalise. For instance, not all men are left brained (analytical and methodical) and not all women are right brained (creative and artistic),” she points out.

Aniruddha Khekale, EVP & head – HR, CG Power and Industrial Solutions, believes that cognitive diversity is by far more important and critical than demographic diversity. “Demographic diversity is reduced to numbers or stats in print, that simply serve to show the world how diverse a company is, but cognitive diversity is more deeply ingrained, and therefore, more important,” says Khekale.

“The agenda for companies is not really to have people from different nationalities and from the LGBTQ community in the workforce. The real motive is to have people with diverse outlooks and yet fit the culture, which makes cognitive diversity more important,” adds Mishra.

Uma Rao, VP-HR, Ashok Leyland, however, feels confident that following a demographic diversity strategy can ensure cognitive diversity. According to her, demographic diversity involves hiring people from different geographies. Since India has a vast and dense culture, people from culturally and demographically diverse backgrounds will have different viewpoints and styles of working.

“Demographic diversity is not different from cognitive diversity. Rather, it is one of the most important ingredients for a cognitively diverse workforce,” asserts Rao.

Geographically speaking, people from different parts of the country and the world have different qualities. For instance, Rao points out that people who come from the northern region of India are considered to be better salesmen as they have greater convincing abilities, while people from the southern regions are more analytical with an inclination towards technology and processes.

Anup Seth, chief diversity & Inclusion Officer, Edelweiss Tokio Life insurance also supports the fact that demographic diversity helps in driving cognitive diversity at workplace. “For instance, a demographic and cultural diversity can help us identify challenges by varied groups of people and therefore do meaningful and relevant innovation to address those financial pain points,” asserts Seth.

“The agenda for companies is not really to have people from different nationalities and from the LGBTQ community in the workforce. The real motive is to have people with diverse outlooks and yet fit the culture, which makes cognitive diversity more important”

Tanaya Mishra, global CHRO, Strides Pharma

How can we ensure cognitive diversity?

Many of the HR leaders that HRKatha spoke with, mention the use of various psychometric and personality tests and models, capable of indicating the personality types of individuals.

Apart from that, different minds can be evaluated through conversations, and by studying the way candidates react to different situations.

“Being open to hiring from different educational backgrounds, sectors and industries can help an organisation be more cognitively diverse,” states Khekale.

However apart from psychometric tests companies can also add different layers to the recruitment process and add skill assessment systems to help making an orgnisation more cognitively diverse.

“Currently, psychometric evaluations form the cornerstone of how job seekers are assessed. However, when you add layers to the recruitment process, especially skills assessment and a panel of recruiters, the entire journey becomes richer and can go a long way in bringing cognitive diversity,” shares Seth.

In the race for numbers and the rush to fill ‘quotas’, the element of cognitive diversity may get neglected. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the biases that prevail and strive towards creating a more cognitively diverse workforce.

“Organisations cannot survive without having cognitive diversity as part of their DE&I agenda,” concludes Mishra.

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