We all know that embracing diversity in our communities is the right thing to do (at least, I hope we all do). But did you know that actively pursuing diversity can benefit your community in tangible ways?
Diversity in unexpected places
Everyone has implicit biases -- these are biases about people, ideas, aesthetics and anything else that we usually aren’t aware of. Although these biases aren’t malicious or intentional, they can have a negative effect on your community’s growth and engagement.
For example, say your organization works with apartment building supervisors. Your implicit bias -- along with many other people’s implicit bias about the profession -- would say that pretty much everyone you’ll work with is an older man. Even though that might generally be the case, if you let your implicit bias call the shots, you might miss out on opportunities to engage women because you don’t think of them as the ‘typical’ member for your organization.
A recent New York Times article featured women supers in New York City. Most supers in apartment buildings are men, but not all of them are -- and if you fail to realize that, you’ll potentially miss some of the most valuable voices in your community just because, at first glance, they don’t fit the mold most people have in mind. And by missing those people, you passed over the chance to engage a resilient, dedicated group of members who have valuable thoughts to add to the community. The same is true of any group—our biases about the audiences we serve keeps us from taking advantage of potential super users, just because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
Diversity is broader than you realize
Often, race and gender are the focus of conversations regarding diversity. That makes sense, since race and gender are usually easy to spot and are very important. But diversity actually encompasses a much broader swath of traits, many far beyond what the eye can see.
There are two large buckets that diversity falls into: inherent and acquired.
Inherent diversity is affected by qualities people are born with, like race, sexual orientation and gender. Sometimes these traits are obvious, but sometimes they’re hidden -- like dyslexia, a photographic memory or sexual orientation.
Acquired diversity, on the other hand, is the result of qualities that people learn or develop over time -- like background, education and skills. It’s also important to make room for this type of diversity, because it’s equally valuable and has the opportunity to bring in people with a vastly different way of thinking than the norm.
A truly diverse group will be a mix of both inherent diversity and acquired diversity. For example, you could have a building supervisor who looks average -- an older man good at fixing things -- but who has a very different education or background than the rest. Perhaps he’s a retired aerospace engineer who has decided to keep busy in his golden years. Just because he looks like everyone doesn’t mean he’s exactly the same -- and he could have some valuable alternative ways for solving problems.
Still, even if we know we want to be inclusive community managers, it can be hard to describe diversity’s value in more measurable ways. How does diversity actually help your community be more valuable to both members and your organization?
Diversity makes good business sense and drives innovation
You want the best, brightest and most passionate members in your community -- so why leave anyone out?
When you recruit your users based on interest and skill rather than a preconception of what a ‘typical’ member looks like, you begin to build a true meritocracy in your community -- which goes a long way towards driving innovation and creating community value.
Although diversity’s importance makes sense intuitively, it’s often hard to definitively prove how it can positively affect the bottom line. But a study from 2013 cited in this Harvard Business Review article did find that diversity has a very clear, important impact on a company: “diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas are heard. When minorities form a critical mass and leaders value differences, all employees can find senior people to go to bat for compelling ideas and can persuade those in charge of budgets to deploy resources to develop those ideas.”
Diversity of all kinds -- from inherent diversity that you’re born with to acquired diversity that you learn -- have the ability to ignite conversations and spark truly innovative ideas. When these ideas are supported and have a place to grow, your community can become more valuable for all members and your organization as a whole.
Diversity is required
When searching for a job, many people take diversity into consideration. So why would joining an organization or community be any different?
According to GlassDoor, a website that helps candidates search for jobs, over two thirds of their respondents say that they look at diversity when deciding on a career change. Take stock of your community’s make up -- how would potential members of all stripes feel if they saw a snapshot of your community’s makeup?
Millennials are the most racially diverse generation in history, as well as the generation with the most people ever identifying as LGBTQ. For them, diversity is absolutely imperative and demonstrative of an organization’s values. Plus, Millennials find diversity helps them perform better in the workplace -- a Deloitte survey found that 86% of Millennials feel that differences in opinion help teams excel.
If you translate those findings to your community, it becomes obvious that if you want to attract the best talent and have the most productive, valuable conversations, you need to make space for people with all types of thinking.
Diversity doesn’t necessarily just happen organically, but by checking your own implicit biases and making concerted efforts not to assume too much about your member base, you can work towards creating an inclusive, diverse and innovative community.
As community becomes an increasingly larger part of organizational strategy across the board, more and more organizations come face to face with the question of diversity in their community. It challenges long-held beliefs about the people you serve, allowing you to build both a more welcoming space and a more productive, innovative assemblage of minds. If you truly want to attract and retain the most valuable members of your community, you must ensure that it is open and inviting for all.