Ever since people started researching this stuff, the message has been clear: diversity and happiness go together about as well as oil and water.
Diversity makes for populations – or workplaces – that are less settled and happy. They’re useful, productive populations, sure, but not as, you know, jolly. And that makes sense, right? It’s so comfy in your little bubble, where everyone looks like you and likes the same craft-beer and goes to the same music festivals every year. It removes the challenge from your relationships.
But hang on a minute. Is challenge bad? We need challenges to refine our ideas. It makes us better people. It improves our businesses and products (and ultimately, balance sheets). And, even though it might make us less comfortable, it actually makes our team relationships stronger.
When we think about diversity in the workplace, we need to think beyond just race, socioeconomic status or culture and also consider things like gender, worldview, and thinking styles.
I think we’ve all read enough articles and reports to say that diversity in the workplace is a really good thing – diverse boards oversee richer companies, and diverse teams are more innovative and better at problem solving. Chucking a creative thinker in the middle of a process-driven team (or vice versa) breaks open people’s horizons and opens up more possibilities. The results are nearly always more awesome than if you’d left those people to be comfortable and unchallenged in their bubble.
But the downside of that? Diversity is challenging.
That’s sort of the point really. Improving on ways of doing things, or challenging established ways of thinking means boundaries get pushed and hackles are raised. In the past it’s been a trade off – shake things up and get better output, but be prepared for the fall out of frayed tempers and simmering conflict. For companies who are also investing heavily in the wellbeing of their staff, that can be a really big call.
But, oh boy, have we got a revelation for you. A new study came out this month, and it blows the lid off things just a bit. Rather than simply comparing happiness levels in diverse groups with those in a comfy bubble, they added another metric: whether people chose the diversity or not.
The upshot (and we’re like, ‘duh, of course.’) is that if people choose to live in a diverse neighbourhood – if they move out of their bubble or proactively seek to make their bubble more welcoming to other kinds of people, they’re actually just as happy as those living in a same-same bubble.
So whether you’re talking about a neighbourhood or a workplace, it’s not really the diversity itself that makes people less happy – it’s the lack of control. It’s the feeling of being forced into something. And it means the difference between people developing empathy for each other and just putting up with things.
Say for example, you’re a middle-class family living in a quiet, city fringe suburb. You’ve been there 10 years, when a population shift means suddenly houses are being snapped up by professional hipsters. They play loud music in their cars, have people over at all times of the night and plant their berm out in corn. Eventually, the constant challenge to what you consider “the right way to do things” is going to have you throwing a full blown, three-year-old-style tantrum.
But if you and your family are the new ones to diverse and colourful neighbourhood, the exact same behaviour won’t bother you at all – it’s part of the charm of the place and probably part of why you moved there in the first place.
Give people more control over diversity, and happiness will follow. It’s that simple.
So what does that mean for business? It means you can have your diversity cake and eat it too. Hooray! All you have to do is bring your teams on the journey – involve them in the decision to bring in new kinds of people and ways of thinking. Practically that’s doing stuff like getting people onboard with diversity as a concept in the first place. Then allowing them to participate in decisions about what that diversity could (and should) look like.
Have conversations about the value in it – why should they welcome that challenge? Once you have people’s buy-in on the concept, get them talking about ‘gaps’ in their team – are they lacking in female or male team mates? Could they do with some people who bring a different ethnic, cultural or socioeconomic perspective, or from a different generation? Are they all zany extroverted creative types who’d benefit from a bit of hard-nose process thinking?
Have your teams create the brief for new members – and even better conduct peer interviews – and watch the (diversity and happiness) magic happen.
When that analytical whipper-snapper starts calling your creative thinking Gen-Z’s on their inefficiencies, instead of crossed arms and muttering, they’ll instead feel just a bit satisfied in their own wise choice. When an outgoing, creative women blazes a trail through an introverted mostly-male team, instead of raising their hackles, they’ll think “Isn’t she perfect for this role? She’s just what we needed!”
Have some faith in your people. If they’re given the opportunity to understand how diversity is valuable, and they’re contributing to the building of that diverse team, they’re more likely to welcome the challenge. They’re happier and more inclusive, the new additions to the team are happier, productivity goes up and your wellness programme gets a real boost.
Weirdly’s diversity module gives you visibility over who you’re attracting and screening for (or against) in your application process. If you’re keen to improve your visibility and reporting in this area, choose a time to talk to one of our team.