Have you noticed how diversity has become the new buzzword in business? How so many companies throw it out there, talking about how diverse their Board/executive team/employee base is or should be? Be it gender, race, culture or socio-economic background, achieving diversity is the goal of an increasing number of companies, and this is a genuinely good thing. What is not a good thing, however, is the frequency with which achieving that diversity fails, regardless of strategy and intention. More often than not, that failure boils down to two things: mindset and culture.

But before we head down that road, let’s first look at why diversity is so important. Besides the obvious social good of ensuring greater equality within business, diversity is actually essential to the success of a business. Lizi Stewart, from leading global built asset consultancy EC Harris, is an expert in this area. She is in the process of implementing a successful diversity program throughout the U.K. region of the company, which has resulted in an increase of 5% in female partners within three years and a consequent increase in company performance. She helps explain why every company should be doing the same.

“Whether you like it or not we all hold preconceptions. It is how our brains file and sort the masses of information it has to process each day. Our previous experiences and the environments in which we operate influence how we feel about certain types of people, be they working mothers, alpha males or people from different social backgrounds. Imagine if we could get everyone’s brain in a jar and just get the best they had to offer leaving all those preconceptions at the door… What if we could see through stereotypes and boundaries and just look at the raw talent that exists? Imagine how much time we would save and how much higher our team and company’s performance would be! It takes a confident person to truly embrace the diverse and different; to have a thirst for understanding and the ability to step into the shoes of the person to see how they view the world. Diversity is ultimately about the diversity of thought processes that are brought to the table: when you truly seek to understand the person, their perspective and ideas, you will be able to truly collaborate towards creating the best possible outcomes, which in turn means that the team truly outperforms you as an individual.”

In other words, without a realistic representation and understanding of a company’s customers amongst decision makers, how can you really deliver the best strategies? It makes perfect sense, so why isn’t it happening across the board? The main obstacle turns out to be the entrenched mindsets and culture that exist within companies. Human nature means we like to surround ourselves with people just like us – people who shop at the same supermarkets, read the same newspapers etc. It makes us feel secure. But it doesn’t challenge us. The 30% club believes that 30% is the figure widely agreed to transform perceptions of the contributions of the minority group from representing that particular group to being judged on their own merit – in other words, critical mass is achieved. This is where the work of a qualified business coach comes in…

One of the first things I do when I meet a client is to find out what shaped them as a person. Using tools such as Myers Briggs personality indicator and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), I help them to understand their own type. In turn, we draw on these tools to understand what shaped the people around them and the benefit a diverse group of people offers in ensuring that decisions are thought through from all angles. Once we are successful with this, the final (and most times unconscious) barrier to inviting genuine diversity in disappears.

Which brings me to my challenge. If you are truly invested in the idea of diversity, ask yourself this: “Are the people around me bringing a different perspective to mine? Am I realising the full potential of the collective human brain around my leadership table or just representing one axis? What more can I do to bring in fresh thinking for the benefit of my company? And, most importantly, how well am I anticipating the wants and needs of my clients?”

When you are satisfied with the answers to these questions, you are probably as diverse as you think you are!