Why Cognitive Diversity Can Enhance Your Team

By 2019, the reasons for focusing on diversity and inclusion in your talent management strategy are well-established. Employers who focus on diversity attract a wider pool of talented candidates, burnish their talent brand, and bring greater experience, perspective, and richness to bear on their work. These positives can generate greater brand loyalty, more opportunity and growth, and higher profitability for organizations.

Race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, industry experience, and education often come to mind when organizations embrace diversity. Recently, though, cognitive diversity has been added to the more familiar aspects of workplace diversity. Cognitively diverse workers are people who process information differently, and their unique abilities and perspectives can greatly benefit organizations of all types.

Think of it this way: would you want all of your talent to think the same one or two ways? How would that hinder your ability to innovate, to respond to the market, to find new opportunities for ideas, products, and services?

‘A different set of lenses’

Edward E. Hubbard, president of human performance consultancy Hubbard & Hubbard, recently spoke about the importance of cognitive diversity at the 2018 SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition. “Different people will see different things and bring a different set of lenses, a different set of knowledge to it,” he said in the session. “It’s important to make sure that you have a culture where people feel comfortable sharing their diverse ways of thinking.” Hubbard did urge that diverse cognitive abilities and perspectives benefit organizations as long as there is a common foundation of knowledge about the topic, function, or industry.

 ‘The world needs all kinds of minds’

Author, professor, and autism advocate Temple Grandin has written and spoken extensively on the need for “all kinds of minds,” as she puts it. Her work advances the idea that all people, neurotypical or not, have multiple intelligences and strengths—up to eight or more discrete types, as put forth by Harvard University researcher Howard Gardner (in his 1983 book Frames of Mind). Grandin emphasizes, though, that autistic people can bring extraordinary strengths in particular areas to their work. Using the example of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, she has described how certain types of thinkers (herself included) may have been able to better anticipate how to plan and configure for disasters such as the tsunami that engulfed the plant.

Seeing the value of cognitive diversity, some of the world’s leading IT companies have expanded their inclusive hiring initiatives to include people with autism. Among them are Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program and SAP’s Autism at Work.

You don’t have to launch an official ‘neurodiverse’ hiring initiative or be in the business of preventing nuclear meltdown, though, to realize the benefits of cognitive diversity in your workplace. Opening your organization (and your hiring process) to include thinkers of all types—neurodiverse and neurotypical, concrete-sequential to abstract or random, those who think in a social-relational manner, will be a boon for your business. The important thing, in the end, is to ensure that your diversity efforts let you consider the widest possible pool of talent—and that it helps you create a culture that welcomes a rich array of ideas and perspectives. Since 1939, DallasHR has served Dallas area HR professionals, helping them advance their careers and build their networks through education, events, and support. With more than 2,200 engaged members, DallasHR is the nation’s third-largest Society for Human Resources (SHRM) affiliate chapter. It powers The HRSouthwest Conference, the official State of Text SHRM Conference and—with 2,400 annual attendees, speakers, and exhibitors—one of the largest regional human resources events in the US.