It's human nature to be resistant to change. Even when we want to embrace it, as soon as we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, we long to return to what we know. In business, it's why there's such an emphasis on company culture, shared values, and 'fitting in'. We believe we perform better when we are supported by like-minded people striving toward a common goal.
This aversion to change is one of the greatest challenges to implementing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and one that we often forget. Diversity is more than expanding the demographic makeup of the workforce; it's also recognising the immense variety of thought that comes with it. If companies are serious about committing to change, they may have to deal with fundamental challenges to their core values and prepare their workforce for the possible discomfort from working with people unlike themselves.
In a recent study, MIT explored this relationship between comfort, performance, and diversity, where they found that heterogeneous teams performed better than their homogeneous counterparts. Using eight years of data from a large US firm, the study found that shifting from an all-male or all-female office to one split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by roughly 41 percent. At the same time, however, the study found that individual employees preferred working in less diverse groups. "Social capital" builds up in greater levels in homogenous offices in the form of cooperation, trust, and enjoyment. In other words, even though workers perform better in diverse settings, they have less fun doing so. As Sara Ellison, an MIT economist, said, "People may like the idea of a diverse workplace more than they like actual diversity in the workplace."
When a company commits to diversity, it's vital that management listens to employees as individuals and address their concerns for being thrust into the unfamiliar. Together, companies and their workforce can learn to embrace the discomfort and reward of change.
Accept that achieving diversity isn’t easy. “Somehow there is this perception that managing diverse groups is fun, it’s easy, everything is going to be ‘kumbaya’,” said Antonio Lucio, CMO of HP, Inc., who is helping to make diversity a top priority for HP, Inc. and their partners, in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week. “It’s damn hard.”