Categories: Virtual Experience Series
By Geetha Gopal
Last week, I was invited to the PMI Virtual Experience Series event held on 2 June 2021 to share my thoughts on the impactful topic of “Driving Innovation through Diversity.” It was a wonderful session with Idan Tobias, and we discussed why we think a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) mindset strengthens project and organizational performance.
Idan had a great set of thoughtful questions such as what the role of DE&I in driving innovation was, and what is one piece of advice I would give to project leaders on this topic, to recount a few. We deliberated on the strong influence of cognitive biases and the results of various studies which indicate that being aware of and acknowledging them is the first step in addressing them. I shared that I am always keen and willing to explore the unknown and untried, take up projects and solutions that are risky as long as their benefits outweigh the risks. In recent times, we have seen organizations setting DE&I as key goals which are more inclined to gender, racial and sexual diversity. I highlighted that generational diversity is often overlooked and must be considered as well. There are at least five different generations in today’s work environment, so we must be inclusive in that aspect too.
We discussed examples of organizations whose inclusive culture has resulted in their tremendous growth. As leaders we can embrace diversity by creating the right atmosphere in our teams and organization, so that anyone is able to adapt, perform their best and complement the system. Open communication, addressing concerns, promoting awareness and having a feedback culture will positively influence and make it sustainable. We also discussed on how active learning, curiosity and diversifying our skillsets will help us to grow as individuals.
Q: Would cultural diversity foster creativity in a project team and what are the factors that are needed?
R: Cultural diversity WILL increase creativity in projects. I see it as a kaleidoscope whose different views make it even more beautiful! As Idan says about his own experience coming from an organization which fosters diversity, they have seen an increase in employee participation and their overall growth has been tremendous. What's needed to encourage cultural diversity is first understanding our setup. If we don't measure, we don't know where we stand.
Q: Which is first - diversity or inclusion?
R: Inclusion comes first for me! As humans, it’s in our natural self to go out of our way to support those who make us feel included... Humanizing is a very important step in driving inclusion. Giving opportunities to those with the right attitude, willingness to learn and go the extra mile will see better results that hiring purely for technical skills.
Q: Would the speakers agree that disciplinary diversity (think cross functional teams) presents a great metaphor for cultural diversity? We're able (at least sometimes) to appreciate differing perspectives in cross functional teams in these situations and we can apply that sort of awareness sprinkled with cultural humility to our conversations and project interactions.
R: Yes, absolutely! That’s a great perspective! To give my own example, we see this all the time in IT projects where non-technical project members are as important as the technical ones, but this inclusion is not natural. The generic balance they bring to highly specialized discussions is important, and so is the disciplinary diversity aspect of it. We will miss out by excluding such diversity. I firmly believe that this is also a cognitive bias that is prevalent in practice and must be acknowledged and addressed.
It was heartening to see so many positive responses on our views. Here are some of their comments:
“I think it takes an open mind. Not everyone is willing to share with other people of different identities. (To assure ourselves that we) are not to be afraid.”
“Sometimes the obstacles to overcome are ourselves/our biases.”
“Humanizing the experience is a really powerful idea.”
“(The) danger is shutting people out by considering people ‘too old’ (with) age discrimination.”
Overall, I had a great experience, and the full presentation will be available on demand through 31 January 2022. Visit PMI Virtual Experience Series 2021 for more details.