Exploring the business case for a diverse workforce

Written by
Changeboard Team

05 Nov 2013

05 Nov 2013 • by Changeboard Team

How diverse is the UK workforce?

Unfortunately, the push to increase diversity in the UK has been a largely 'cosmetic' effort – so far. High profile role models are paraded as examples of the giant steps we are taking toward a representative workforce. However, the sad fact is that these individuals represent the exception, rather than the rule. They are convenient props in an environment where headlines are more important than substance.

Underneath those high profile diverse icons, the story has been similar for decades: various forms of unconscious bias and ingrained prejudice means that the management level of the UK workforce isn’t anywhere near representative of the community it serves and provides services to. The general trend is that 'the usual suspects' are running our economy.

A need for a change in attitude?

Is this ever likely to change? I believe it is. But it’s going to take a fundamental mind shift. The crux of the challenge is turning the argument on its head, promoting awareness of diversity as a source of competitive advantage, rather than an obligation in the interests of good PR and Corporate Social Responsibility.

The mind shift will happen over time, but at Green Park, a minority owned business, we felt so strongly about it we set out to take the first step toward establishing the business case for diversity. The War For Diverse Talent, Green Park’s new whitepaper, draws on new mathematical theories and examples from business, nature and even showbusiness. 

Establishing the business case for diversity

Recent work by Dr Scott E Page has unpacked the power of diversity to a startling degree. His two most profound findings are sufficiently robust to have the status of theorems. The Diversity Trumps Ability Theorem demonstrates that, under a reasonable set of conditions, diverse groups consistently outperform expert groups. The reasoning is essentially that experts, who tend to share much of their cognitive ‘toolsets’ in common, provide an excellent partial view of a problem. By contrast, although the diverse group may have fewer tools on average than individual experts, between them they cover off those experts tools, while adding several more – they offer a good complete view.

Furthermore, diversity confers a mathematical property known as superadditivity. In short, diversity isn’t simply a shuffling of risk like a well-balanced share portfolio – it adds more. The Newtonian analogy of “standing on the shoulders of giants” to see further helps: diversity provides a wider array of perspectives, and helps groups see ‘further’.

Diversity - key to business strategy

Page’s second theorem is more formally mathematical: ‘Crowd error’ = ‘Average error’ – ‘Diversity’. This asserts that the error or failure rate in a crowd, society or organisation is comprised of the average individual error-rate and the degree of diversity.

Traditionally we seek gains by reducing the ‘average error’, for example by attempting to recruit better-qualified individuals and so on. This insight suggests we can achieve greater gains by bringing more diversity into the equation. Further, it shows diversity is not simply a side issue, a sprinkling on of difference as it were: it’s a fundamental strategy.

Lessons to be learned from Broadway

New insights about diversity are emerging from evolution, economics and mathematics – and, from the business of Broadway, too. A study of teamwork by Dr Brian Uzzi and others looked at decades of Broadway shows. Traditionally, success or failure on Broadway gets established brutally and quickly – often overnight. And while it may be show business, successful shows are sure business, too. Uzzi and his colleagues found that when the core creative team comprised people with previous experience working together and ‘fresh blood’, success followed – whereas those consisting of either only ‘old hands’ or entirely new teams tended to fail. They have explored this effect across several sectors, and it shows that, where teamwork and innovation are needed – which would be most organizations facing a challenging landscape – diversity, once again, is demonstrably beneficial. 

Join the diversity debate

It’s a big debate, and an important one. At Green Park, we’ve greatly enjoyed taking the first step in establishing the business case for diversity, but our main motivation was to lead the debate: we’d be delighted to hear what you have to say.

Click here to download the full research report: http://www.green-park.co.uk/news/analysis-reports/the-war-for-diverse-talent/