Cognitive Diversity: How to (Actually) Diversify Your Organization

Knowing the right thing to do, and knowing how to do it, do not always go hand-in-hand. Recruiting talent is already a challenge in itself. Add recruiting for diversity into the mix and even more questions arise. Where do we start? How do we do this thoughtfully with a small budget and team? How do we access a diverse pool of applicants? Which factors should we prioritize?


Diversity-based and skills-focused recruitment outcomes are not independent of one another. The goal of our recruitment processes should be to create a team which has a variety of strengths, backgrounds and identities. When our teams are diverse both cognitively and demographically, the positive impacts will be amplified.


When our teams are diverse both cognitively and demographically, the positive impacts will be amplified.


The concept of diversity in the workplace is now receiving recognition for driving innovation, competitive advantages, and all in all, being the right thing to do. One very important stumbling block is our definition of “diversity” is sparse. The first things that many people usually think of when it comes to diversity are factors such as age, gender, race, and cultural background, but there is far more to creating a diverse workplace than hiring people of colour or creating the perfect male to female ratio. 


We assume that recruiting for diverse demographic characteristics will bring new perspectives onto the team. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It’s a good start, but the unintended result may be a team that merely looks different rather than a truly diverse team. Diversity is not just about demographic characteristics we can easily see, but also includes cognitive factors that we need to dig deeper to understand.

In today’s post, we will unpack diversity in the workplace, sharing how to recruit and foster a diverse team through cognitive diversity.

When a team is taking on a new challenge, having a range of thinking styles and perspectives across team players is an asset. Problem-solving is essential to any business; being good at it starts with cognitive diversity.

Cognitive diversity is defined as “differences in perspective or information processing styles.” More importantly, it’s how individuals think about and engage with new, complex situations. Crafting cognitively and demographically diverse teams will make your business more resilient. Contrary to popular belief, demographic diversity does not imply cognitive diversity.   


What Does Cognitively Diverse Teams Look Like?

Decision-making ability and healthy debates are a few characteristics of cognitively diverse teams. Getting these results is a combination of culture and recruitment. This means recruiting team members with unique insights and ensuring their voices are heard or amplified.


Your cognitively diverse team should also be demographically diverse. In no way does cognitive diversity discount demographic diversity, it simply fills in the gaps that demographic diversity cannot cover in isolation. Diversity can be improved during recruitment by selecting racially, ethnically, and gender diverse candidates who enhance diversity on the following two cognitive levels:

  1. Possess professional skills, background, and experiences that are relevant to the organization
  2. Present new perspectives and approaches to problem-solving

The goal is to maximize the positive impacts of diversity whilst minimizing tokenism.

Here are 6 key insights that can help you draw your roadmap to results-oriented workplace diversity:

1. Diversify your talent pool 

Creating a diverse pool of candidates from the get-go means that your selection process can focus on cognitive and skills-based factors. Where are you posting job openings? Are you actively seeking diverse candidates, or hoping they magically show up? Do not start selecting until your talent pool is diverse enough. If it’s not, consider why candidates are self-selecting out.


2. Recruit demographically diverse candidates who also have strong business backgrounds

Remember, we are avoiding tokenism and performantive hiring practices. At the end of the day, you are hiring talent for the skills and insights they bring, not their status in a minority group. 


3. Look at the company’s current and future needs and use assessment tools to determine your talent gap

Once you know what skills and cognitive factors are lacking, fill these gaps with demographically diverse candidates. These gaps should be evaluated and re-evaluated frequently.


4. Go beyond your current network and historical recruitment practices

It is tempting to curate like-minded teams from existing team member networks. Instead, access new talent pools that are not tied to current team members.


5. Create an in-depth interview process

Focusing on how each candidate’s background and life experiences add to the current team is key to evaluating the “fit” of their cognitive factors. Involving multiple decision-makers and conducting interviews in a variety of settings may enhance your understanding of who the candidate is and what they bring to the table. 


6. Foster a culture that allows diversity to thrive 

This means creating a culture that invites, celebrates, and utilizes the insights of your diverse team members. Invite your team to share and make it a safe place to be vulnerable. 

At Tandem Innovation Group, demographic diversity is a priority in our recruitment processes for our core team, affiliates and clients. We are continuously working on improving the cognitive and demographic diversity of our network.


Here are 5 steps we are taking:

1. Curating a comprehensive skills matrix that will be used to evaluate (and re-evaluate) talent gaps in our network to help us recruit a cognitively diverse team.

2. Prioritizing selecting from a demographically diverse talent pool and candidates before commencing the selection process.

3. Continuing to create and improve our open and safe network of communication. This culture fosters the positive impacts of diversity. 

4. Our culture empowers collaboration across all levels of our teams. We actively seek to amplify voices in our network and clients. 

5. Creating an affiliate archetype model to (a) scout talent that fits our needs (b) help new affiliates identify their areas of expertise and growth within our needs (c) create a blueprint for multiple cognitive profiles that would be an asset to our team. 



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