Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 15.08.37Over and over again, I read articles and see items on the news that talk about diversity as a source of problems. What if we looked at it the other way around? What if diversity was not the problem but the solution to a lot of wicked problems?

The evidence is overwhelming. Mixed male/female management teams deliver better financial results. Teams that come from diverse backgrounds and cultures are more innovative. Academic research from multicultural teams is quoted more in publications. Cities that have more cultures even realise faster economic growth. Need I say more?

So what’s keeping us to embrace more diversity in our private lives, at work, and in society as a whole?

In the projects we have managed at Glassroots the over the past years, I have seen 2 blocking factors pop up nearly every time. Fear of the unknown is the first one. Most of us prefer to stay in their comfort zone and hang out with people at events where they talk to the same people about the same topics over and over again. It happens in professional life: marketeers hook up with other marketeers, CFO’s hold annual conferences on financial-only topics …. But the really interesting conferences are the TED-like ones. Why? Because you discover new insights from diverse speakers you would never think about. Because they think differently than you do.

I see the same happening in private life. Are most of your friends just clones of who you are? Quite boring if you ask me. Don’t you have the most interesting discussions with people who are nothing like you? Who are a lot older or younger, come from different backgrounds, work on other stuff, come up with other ideas? Of course you would actually have to be interested in other people to have those kinds of conversations. The ability to talk but the unability to listen to others is a second reason why we don’t embrace diversity as a source of solutions.

Finding solutions in diversity is exactly what we do at Glassroots. We support organisations in solving complex challenges. Either inside a company or on a societal level, our method is to confront ideas from very diverse stakeholders. Over and over again, it sparks bright ideas that not a single person would come up with on their own, or within a group of peers. But that’s just the first step. Finding a common goal amongst the stakeholder group is a second step. It sounds simple, but it’s really the hardest part in building stakeholder partnerships.

To build bridges between diverse people, you need them to share their own insights, but you also need them to listen to completely different ones around the table. You do that by linking every stakeholders’ own interest to a common interest. If they co-create what should be done together and are convinced it helps them realise their own goals, you have a winning partnership. That’s what stakeholder engagement is all about.

After all, who are we to think we can have all the answers to all the questions, even if we were a CEO or President? Do you? Just try having one conversation with someone completely different outside your comfort zone this week. It might be a colleague, a neighbour, someone at the busstop. Who knows, you might actually learn something new. Tell me about it!

Elke Jeurissen, Co-founder Glassroots