Cognitive diversity refers to the variety of perspectives, viewpoints and ideas that people bring to the workplace.
What is cognitive diversity?
Cognitive diversity, otherwise known as neurodiversity, describes the variety of ways in which people think. It defines the wide range of unique approaches and perspectives we have about the world and the way we process information.
Influenced by our experiences, gender and cultural background, cognitive diversity can often lead to powerful innovation and creative problem-solving.
Why cognitive diversity is important
Cognitive diversity is the inclusion of people with unique perspectives and problem-solving styles into the workplace, generally for the purpose of boosting a company’s overall diversity of thought.
Some of the major benefits of a cognitively diverse workplace are:
- It reduces biases and stereotypes: By bringing different backgrounds and perspectives to the workplace, companies can effectively reduce unconscious biases that go unnoticed due to a lack of diversity.
- It fosters innovation: Teams consisting of people from diverse cultures and ethnicities are often more skilled at thinking out of the box. They bring different approaches and methods for processing information that fuel innovation and creativity.
- It encourages teamwork: Cognitive diversity brings together varied perspectives and problem-solving styles. Team members can rely on each other’s individual cognitive styles to come up with more creative solutions.
Factors that influence cognitive diversity
There are several factors that play a role in shaping cognitive diversity, including personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and social perspectives:
Ethnicity and Culture
A person’s ethnic and cultural background has a significant influence on their worldview. People from different cultural backgrounds offer a demographic diversity that contributes to a more cognitively diverse workforce.
A person’s educational background shapes their approach to problem-solving and decision-making. People from varied educational backgrounds can bring their own unique perspectives and techniques for interpreting data and coming up with advanced solutions.
Experience reflects how and where someone has acquired their skills and knowledge base. Team members with diverse job experiences can offer unique perspectives that contribute to a team’s problem-solving strategies. For example, a software developer with experience in start-ups will bring a different approach to problem-solving than someone with a background in a large corporate setting.
This diversity of experience strengthens the team’s ability to tackle challenges from multiple angles and achieve better results. It also avoids the natural gravitation towards “groupthink” that often prevents individuals with different opinions from sharing their ideas and viewpoints.
How to enhance cognitive diversity in the workplace
Hiring for cognitive diversity enhances employee engagement and makes room for spaces where out-of-the-box ideas can thrive. Another important benefit of cognitive diversity is that it also helps create a more inclusive and collaborative work culture.
Here are some tips for enhancing cognitive diversity in the workplace:
- Take a skills-based approach to hiring instead of focusing on academic degrees: Looking for skills instead of formal education opens up a wider pool of talent, which naturally improves your chances of creating a more dynamic workforce. One study from the Harvard Business Review showed that cognitively diverse teams can solve problems at least twice as fast as like-minded teams.
- Search for candidates that are ‘culture add’ rather than ‘culture fit’: This means searching for candidates that bring a fresh perspective to the talent pool instead of choosing talent that have similar ideas or backgrounds. Culture-add candidates can contribute with new concepts and strategies that fuel innovation.
- Offer continuous opportunities for individual growth: Provide opportunities for growth through learning programs based on cognitive diversity that encourage employees to think outside the norm. In order to achieve cognitive diversity, it is important to integrate these programs into all areas of workplace culture.
- Create a culture of innovation: This involves hiring employees who continuously push boundaries and challenge the status quo. Teams that are diverse are often more open to creating healthy debates and forum discussions that value and incorporate different perspectives.