7 Future Markers of Diversity
The future of diversity is not about ethnicity, gender or sexuality — but diversity of experience.
The future of diversity is not about ethnicity, gender or sexuality — but diversity of experience.
A spotlight has been taken to injustices we thought were righted, and diversity is once again on the agenda.
In my previous post, Why Diversity Matters, I argued that the fight for equality of opportunity is by far complete. Every industry has miles to climb before they catch up with a reality we all thought was true.
That said, I’m quite an optimistic person. I like to believe that eventually things get better. This is the case for my outlook on diversity in the workplace. Some important things happened recently that has really brought the plight of POC to the forefront of our thinking, and I believe that we’re now not only listening, but acting.
Eventually, we will have equality of opportunity for all. But what happens when we get there? Where does diversity turn next? How can we look beyond today’s differences of skin colour, sexuality and gender?
In the workplace, organisations and workplace psychologists have already begun experimenting with new ways of building successful diverse teams. An aspect of this has included hiring POC, and this has brought a fundamental level of diversity of experience into the workplace, which remember, is vital to innovation.
But other aspects have emerged, and we’re starting to ask ourselves, what lies beyond? Here’s where it gets interesting. If you think about the fundamental value of diversity, it’s not about skin colour, or who you date, or how you look. It’s about experience. My experience as a British South Asian man is different from an Oxbridge-educated white male from Surrey.
But my experience is also different than people in my own sub-ethnicity (Punjabi-Indian), such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. And this is the crux of it.
Beyond the traditional markers of diversity, once they have been satisfied, we can look beyond them and begin to see diversity in a different way — by valuing the diversity of each individual, and particularly, each individual’s unique life experience.
To do this, we need to look to ‘new markers’ of diversity, and there are 7 of them; Emotional Intelligence, Lived Experience, Generational Diversity, Risk Appetite, Mental Needs, Imagination and Learnability.
But before we delve into these, it’s worth pausing to consider the backdrop in which these new markers of diversity will exist.
The changing nature of labour markets:
- Future labour markets will be ultra-fluid (majority untethered, freelance talent) so expect a higher turnover of workers, and less loyalty. Covid has accelerated this, so expect it to materialise as early as early as next year
- Skills and educated youth are continuing to shift to developing countries. By 2030, India and China are expected to supply more than 60% of the G20 workforce with a qualification in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
- As 78% of employees expect their employer to have a diverse workforce, diversity will be a key driver in applicant decision making (not just tolerance, but full acceptance of diversity as a core business value)
- Declining reproductive rates in Western countries means there will be fierce global competition to attract migrant talent (so expect today’s consensus on anti-immigration to be reversed)
The 7 Future Markers of Diversity
1. Emotional Intelligence
In its simplest form, Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ) is the capacity of an individual to recognise their own emotions and the emotions of others, to skillfully manage those emotions in a judicious and empathetic manner, and allow those interactions to guide thinking and behaviour to achieve goals.
It’s a key management and leadership tool, but it’s applications lie way beyond the internal struggle of organisations — EI is a key innovation driver by promoting self-autonomy and informed decision making (fundamental assets of an entrepreneurial mindset).
There has been a lot of talk about this competence as a vital future skill, but EI is often described too narrowly. In fact, rather than a single competence, EI exists over several — consider EI as a skill set, rather than a single skill to learn. HBR wrote a fantastic article explaining EI and how it comprises four domains; Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management.
Within these domains exist 12 EI competencies — “learned and learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader”. This broader skill set allows individuals to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, develop the gaps and progress further in their career as great leaders.
2. Lived Experience
In place of hiring through traditional markers of diversity (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation), we can explore a deeper meaning of diversity by holistically looking at the individual that sits behind their societal labels.
This involves recognising the struggles, triumphs and challenges each of us have faced in our lives, unique to us, encompassing our ethnicity, gender, and so on as only a partial factor of what makes us, us.
In practice this still means paying particular attention to marginalised groups (traditional markers), but layering over their lived experiences, focusing on factors such as upbringing, cultural exposure, trauma, personal beliefs and values, family structure and other experiences that shape a person.
Using individual lived experience as an axiom for future diversity ensures all employees are elevated, including groups that (today) require particular attention. So, from a POC perspective, their value will no longer lie within their skin colour, but their individual culture. And for white workers, it could mean greater representation of poorer, working class voices.
3. Generational Diversity
The future workforce will be a multi-generational one — similar to today, but on steroids. The confluence of the (very large) Gen Z cohort entering the workforce, and Baby Boomers sticking around longer than any of us imagined will mean that for the first time ever we’ll have a 4-generation (4G) workforce.
To add to this, the expectations and ways of working on either end of the generational spectrum is extreme — bridging the gap will be no easy task for employers. Traditional generational roles will disappear too, don’t necessarily expect Baby Boomers and Gen X in positions of power — reskilling will be a big motivational driver for these older workers to stick around and reapply their knowledge at lower levels.
But here lies an opportunity. Mixing the traits of each generation could enable a new era of productivity — where the agility and digital comfort of Gen Z and Millennials can be tethered to the consistency and ambition of Gen X and Baby Boomers. As such, intergenerational teams can apply a multivariate skill set to problem solving — creating products and services that are more considered.
4. Risk Appetite
In the financial world, those who are beginning their investment journey are often asked a pretty fundamental question — what is your risk appetite? To avoid swinging from excessive exuberance to cautious prudence, investors set a disciplined goal of how much they would like their money to grow, and at what pace. The same logic can be applied to innovative organisations.
Different people have a different level of risk tolerance, and whether that tolerance lies within prudence or exuberance it’s a key asset to ensure diversity of decision making. One individual may be cautious, another ultra-optimistic.
By building teams with a mix of risk appetite, and modulating that to a set of disciplined values that anchors practice, organisations can ensure risks are taken strategically.
5. Mental Needs
Being cognisant of a person’s psychological needs will enable better understanding of how satisfied they are within their role, as well as their current maximal potential to fulfill that role mentally. As acknowledged by Self-determination Theory, human beings have 3 basic psychological needs:
- Autonomy — having control over their lives and decision making
- Competence — effectiveness in dealing with their circumstance and environment
- Relatedness — need for meaningful relationships and connection to others
Rather than bucketing everyone into an absolute need for each of these, a future requirement will be to determine at an individual level how much of each need a person desires, and has so far fulfilled. Assessing this across each need area will be critical. An individual in management will typically have greater autonomy and competence, but less relatedness, for example.
Mixing individuals at different levels, like our unconnected manager with others in the organisation in similar (other managers) or dissimilar (colleagues) circumstances, could increase their mental capacity to do their job, as well as those they’re engaging with.
It’s a well-known fact that creativity, and the ability to creatively solve problems in particular is a fundamental, universal skill. Any true designer can attest to having an innate ability to step outside their day-to-day, empathise and ideate solutions that are outside of the realm of traditional thought.
It’s why in innovation, analogous research plays such an important role for providing adjacent thinking for traditional thinkers. But what if we considered the value of different ‘types’ of thought? Some of the most successful group projects I’ve worked on have brought together designers, engineers, consumers, executives and others to solve a problem.
What made the process successful was not a homogenisation of thought around creativity, but a confluence of different ways of thinking to tackle a problem from multiple perspectives simultaneously. This requires Imaginative Thinking — the ability to absorb information and work constructively with others to ‘imagine’ new ways of doing things.
In many ways it is similar to creative thinking, but the key difference is that imagination is innate to everyone, and takes on different flavours based on the type of individual imagining. An engineer can imagine just as well as a designer, but their foundation of thought is different — the engineer thinks systemically (a logical, linear process), versus a designer who may think spatially (random, interconnected thoughts). Both types of imagination are desirable when paired together because they can play off each other, and this is where innovation thrives, at the intersection of difference.
This is probably the most important future skill and marker of future diverse talent. Every single worker in every industry will need to have an ability to constantly adapt, upskill and re-skill as the job market contorts into automation-first.
In practice, this means having something called a ‘Growth Mindset’. Satya Nadella puts it simply — “see yourself as a student”, for life. As automation takes over exposed skill sets, workers from sector-to-sector will find themselves obsolete in future job markets. Therefore a predisposition to constant change, and with it the willingness to learn and relearn again, will be a fundamental asset of individuals. It means marrying learnability with grit.
Not everyone will naturally have this, but everyone will require it. To foster such a mindset, organisations can play an important role by championing individuals with such predispositions, sharing their knowledge with others and building organic learnable capability across their workforce.
Measuring Future Diversity
As this is a practical guide to the new future of diverse hiring, I’d like to walk you through some metrics, and later a step-by-step guide, to put this into practice.
Firstly, it goes without saying that if you want to do this, you need organisational change. At the heart of your value system, you should place diversity. It’s a key tool for innovative thinking and as Mckinsey highlighted, it can improve performance by 35%.
So, the metrics. Remember that you’re dealing with people, yes they’re your employees but they’re also human, and I’m a big advocate of a human-centred approach to, well, anything that involves humans. Rather than measure these qualities in tests or assessments (which don’t always work and are too process-driven), it’s better to have conversations with individuals to understand their level of competence within each of these future markers. This can be applied to your existing workforce first, and then once you’ve found the gaps, can be strategically applied to external hiring.
In practice, there are 3 metrics for measuring the 7 new markers:
- Generic Metrics
- Type Metrics
- Measurable Metrics
Use for: Lived Experience
This marker, rather an outlier in some respects, is actually the most important when it comes to ensuring diversity. It’s a generic marker that should filter most individuals by their diversity, and protect organisations from homogenised thinking.
Use for: Generational Diversity, Mental Needs, Imagination
These markers indicate the type of individual they are; what generation, what psychological basis they have, what type of imagination they possess. It’s type based and can’t be quantified.
Use for: Emotional Intelligence, Risk Appetite, Learnability
These markers can be rated on a scale based on the level of competence (Low to High) the individual has in each. It’s quantifiable, and adapts to the individual as they grow within their competence(s).
How to asses these markers in conversation
- Emotional Intelligence — Honest discussion around their quotient for their own emotions and the emotions of others
- Imagination — Innovative projects or experiences they’ve been involved in, practical examples of their thought process that can be done in person, how often and well they collaborate with others on problem solving
- Learnability — Examples of professional challenges faced, how they have adapted, their capacity for learning (do they feel their skill set is safe?)
- Lived Experience — What personal challenges have they faced? What cultures have they been exposed to? How has this influenced the way they see themselves and the world? What are their values? What’s their story?
- Generational Diversity — What generation do they belong to? Do they fit into generational stereotypes?
- Risk Appetite — How comfortable are they with risk taking? How do they perceive risk?
- Mental Needs — What are their psychological needs? What are their psychological strengths and weaknesses? Do they require more/less autonomy, connection, competence?
How to Build Future Diverse Teams
Step 1 — Understand their Generic Metrics*
Have a conversation with the individual to understand their lived experience, and if this experience is consistent with your current workforce. Inconsistency is key here, individuals with backgrounds that don’t exist in your organisation are more likely to add the greatest value.
This step ensures diversity of backgrounds.
Step 2 — Understand their Type Metrics
Individuals can self-identify their Generation-type, Imagination-type and Mental Needs.
This step ensures diversity of thought.
Step 3 — Understand their Measurable Metrics
Use my adapted Stack Ranking** tool, scores between 1–10 can be assigned to how competent the individual is within their EI, Risk Appetite and Learnability.
These markers tend to be higher value, as not everyone will display high rankings for each, and definitely not across all. As such, individuals who rank highly in these markers should be promoted as workplace champions to build their capability in others.
This step ensures diversity of competences.
Step 4 — Assign each employee Diversity Tags
Each individual will have their own variance of diversity. As some things can’t be labelled, like your lived experience, we can use Type Metrics and Measurable Metrics to easily distinguish between individuals. How employees self-identify for the Type Metrics can be tagged onto their employee profile, and likewise, if they have strengths within any of the markers under Measurable Metrics, this can be tagged and added too.
When starting a project, you can either use the tags to build a team, or validate diversity in decision making once teams have assembled. This is important as you may already have a successful process for team design, so it can be complementary.
The key is to ensure the employee is in the driving seat, you don’t want to assume something about someone and then tag them to that assumption. Have the conversation, let them self-identify.
Step 5 — Apply the same process to New Hires
Once this process has been completed within your current workforce, you’ll have a good understanding of your Diversity Floor, and the gaps of diversity you need to fill (whether at metric level or individual marker). For instance, you may not have enough individuals in R&D who are risk takers, which is encouraging a cautious R&D strategy — and this doesn’t align with your company’s mission. You can also use this process to pinpoint not just the diversity you’re missing in one area, but across multiple. You’ll probably end up hiring R&D staff who are not only easy with risk, but are from different backgrounds, have different learning styles and from different generations. So don’t just seek to address one gap, but multiple.
Step 6 — Experiment and Redesign
Nothing is ever simple, and nothing ever lasts. So you’ll need to embed this process as a long-term strategy and commit to adjusting it to your needs. You may find that in your industry, you’ve naturally satisfied several of these markers, most others will find the opposite true. So prioritise and experiment based on your need and future need as an organisation. Team dynamic still plays a role too. If individuals work on paper but not in practice then don’t force it, but experiment.
*New hires only, you can’t or don’t want to get rid of someone simply because they’re privileged or went to Oxbridge, this step helps you to understand your Diversity Floor (the level of diversity you have) — you build everything on top of this.
**You can use a very simple adapted stack ranking system I created for measuring diversity in each individual, it allows you to build teams based on a person’s ‘diversity score’. Like Jack Welch’s stack ranking, we’re aiming to identify strengths for each individual. But, we’re not going to fire anyone, we’re going to mix strengths to ensure maximal diversity and therefore performance.