Diversity as Perspective
How One Company Uses Diversity To Stay Adaptable
Diversity in the workplace can help you solve problems. Why? Because sometimes you just need somebody who thinks a little differently.
Scott Page, a researcher from Michigan and author of the book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, has proven that diversity drives creativity, innovation, and better problem solving. Through mathematical modeling and results based studies, he proves that variety in staffing results in better outcomes. The basic idea is that similar people with similar backgrounds tend to approach problem solving in similar ways.
When the problem is complex and they get stuck, if they are paired with someone that has a different background and different way of looking at the world, then that different person brings a new pattern of problem solving to the table. Together a diverse team has more tools, more ways of solving, and more ways of thinking about problems.
Since Page’s book was published in 2008, this idea has swept through the business community. Companies are looking for ways to enable greater diversity on their teams, not for affirmative action reasons, but because it is good business.
One company has taken those practices and applied it to an architecture firm. Called Carrier Johnson + CULTURE the principal states, “diversity is been paramount in every project we have accomplished. From staff, to clients, to building types, to design expression. It is the vital building block of a relevant if not vibrant design practice. Diversity is the definition of “perspective”.
“I believe the more perspective we possess, the more we have to offer a design solution.”
Gordon Carrier with his partner Michael Johnson wanted to build a firm that was not only representative culturally but one that hired native language speakers from around the globe that infused ‘culture’ into everything they built. They were early followers of Scott Pages’ doctrine, recognizing that in order to design for specific cultures – whether international or the specific culture of a company, they needed different voices.
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In building the firm, Gordon and Michael sought out talented architects and designers from different backgrounds and set up systems that allow for people to be themselves. In addition Gordon states that diversity does not just stop with hiring, it needs to be applied to the culture:
- The company includes representatives from 18 countries. 36 percent of the employees were born outside the US and there a fluent speakers of 14 different languages. This is vastly atypical of companies of that size and even more so the white male dominated field of architecture.One of the main principals of the firm is from Mexico and every day there are several employees traveling across the border who live in Mexico and work in San Diego to adopt the spirit of diversity.
- The company has a third Thursday happy hour hosted by a rotating responsibility where an individual can show of their talent, country’s culture, or anything else that makes them unique.
- Teams are specifically assigned to make sure that there is a mix of experience, gender, and ethnicity.
- During the world cup on almost every desk, one of the two screens was tuned to the game and inevitably someone in the office was rooting for their own country and the rest of the company cheered along.
- They hired Kristine Woolsey, a well-known behavioral strategist that would allow them better focus on the behaviors that drive a specific culture.