As business leaders, we love to talk about the profitability of business diversity and its ability to remove hidden biases within an organization. Many of us have also come to better understand that "companies are at their best when they reflect the people that they serve."
But, after recently visiting a school for Arab and Jewish children in Israel that is breaking down barriers through bilingual and multi-cultural education, I've been thinking about a different kind of diversity: the diversity of opinions and how we solve problems together even when we disagree.
Grow understanding to build something better
The Hand in Hand school that I visited is built on the belief that the better we understand one another, the stronger our efforts can be together. They accomplish this, in part, by diving deeply into each other's culture and language to find commonalities and to grow from new ideas.
How might you dive deeply into the breadth of experience and thinking within your own organization? Are there cross-training opportunities you are missing or fresh perspectives that should be voiced in strategic meetings? Stay open to understanding, and not resisting, your own differences to help you arrive at better business results without creating tension and unprofitable hurdles.
Inspire from the top, empower throughout
Like so many parts of your company culture, embracing diverse ideas and opinions starts with YOU. As a leader, you must display for your team how to handle creative conflict and connect with colleagues in a way that pushes your business forward.
In the school community, many students simply did not know how to engage with students from other cultures until they were able to see examples of how their parents and teachers interacted with each other. Be that example for your organization and hire people that feel the same way about actively learning from fresh perspectives and identifying unexpected allies and collaborators.
Remove the physical separation
The simple act of the students sharing a classroom and connecting at social events is a leap forward in breaking down barriers in their communities. How easy it can be to misunderstand or, worse, villainize someone when you do not spend time learning about and connecting with them.
Could this be true in your company today? Are you missing out on important knowledge sharing because of poor office design or a lack of intentional interaction opportunities?
As smart businesses continue to strategically recruit a more diverse employee base, it isn't enough to simply say 'welcome' and hope that everyone gets along. We grow because of the diversity of opinions within our walls and we must be thoughtful in how we work through those differences to make the best decisions for our business. Break down those barriers and be inspired!