Great Minds Think Differently: How to Enable Cognitive Diversity in the Workplace


An essential part of diversity and inclusion is ensuring the diversity of thought. In this article, we discuss:

  • What is cognitive diversity?
  • Key statistics and predictions in this space
  • Technologies you can use to introduce cognitive diversity in the workplace

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is now among the top priorities for companies across the world. A Gartner surveyOpens a new window of 1700+ senior executives found that it is the no.1 talent management priority for CEOs. And an essential part of diversity in the workplace is cognitive diversity – or diversity in thought, ideas, and problem-solving approaches.

Cognitive diversity plays an integral role in opening up your organization to new perspectives. It helps to make employees feel more valued while also driving the business bottom line with outside-the-box ideas.

So, what is cognitive diversity in the workplace?

How can you make it a part of your HR strategy in 2020?

Let’s find out.

Learn More: Why Companies Need to Remember the “I” in D&IOpens a new window

Understanding the Need for Cognitive Diversity in the Workplace

Cognitive diversity refers to including individuals with unique, diverse viewpoints and who use cognitive exploration models when solving a problem in the workplace. These viewpoints are informed by the different experiences, cultural backgrounds, and gender identities that employees bring to the workplace.

By paying attention to diversity & inclusionOpens a new window , and inviting contributions from a vast talent pool when solving business problems, an organization can gain from cognitive diversity in the workplace.

Over the years, several research papers and reports have conclusively demonstrated the need for cognitive diversity:

  • Teams with a high deviation from the “standard” perspective (in other words, cognitive diversity) are more likely to solve a problem than non-diverse teams, according to an experiment run by the Harvard Business Review. Opens a new window
  • In 2018, the Bank of EnglandOpens a new window launched its first-ever internal cognitive diversity survey to find out how the workforce feels about inclusion and its impact on problem-solving/performance. Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) indicated lower ratings, showing the way forward.
  • A DeloitteOpens a new window report found that cognitively and demographically diverse teams can enhance innovation by 20% and identify/reduce risks by up to 30%.
  • GartnerOpens a new window predicts that through 2022, 75% of organizations that boast of a diverse and inclusive culture among frontline decision-makers will exceed their financial targets.
  • In 2019, IBM announced its effort to embrace neurodiversityOpens a new window by hiring high-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The company stated that “Neurodiverse people approach problems differently and have to think harder to get around what the rest of us accept.”

Clearly, cognitive diversity in the workplace is beneficial for both employee well-being and business outcomes. Let’s now look at the technologies you can use to create a cognitively diverse workforce in your organization.

Learn More: One More Step Toward Inclusion – Respecting Pronoun Preferences in the WorkplaceOpens a new window

Four Technologies That Can Help Unlock the Power of Cognitive Diversity

Every individual has their own approach to resolving challenges. In addition to our human differences, a person’s cultural, social, ethnic, and economic background can also influence the decision-making process.

Cognitive diversity in the workplace means that all of these differences are leveraged to answer key business questions and a situation where employees find equal expression to guide the organization’s growth path. While this may sound complex, there are several technologies available that make it easier to gain from cognitive diversity.

1. An easy-to-use design thinking tool for collaboration

Design thinking Opens a new window is perfectly suited to cognitive diversity, given its non-linear structure and openness to external feedback.

You can use a design thinking tool for strategic decisions in the workplace, even without a high degree of technical expertise. Consider a solution like Shape, which is a visual space that lets you build, test, and refine your ideas.

Shape Opens a new window helps you gather ideas and feedback from multiple sources and stores effective approaches as reusable templates. You can also create global communities around shared challenges, expanding the ambit of cognitive diversity outside your workplace.

2. A diversity-focused recruitment and employee management tool

The first step towards cognitive diversity in the workplace is hiring a demographically diverse workforce. There are several solutions out there to achieve this, such as Plum, with its holistic nature.

PlumOpens a new window offers predictive recommendations for hiring with zero bias. It also ensures that protected groups aren’t left out when assessing only for talent. Further, Plum supports the entire employee experience, from hiring to career pathing and leadership development.

The platform predicts performance from a diversity-focused perspectiveOpens a new window across the employee journey, using AI and organizational psychology.

3. A cognitive collaboration suite for augmented intelligence

Augmented intelligence leverages AI to offer people access to the right data at the right time. This can significantly improve collaboration by equipping every individual with the requisite set of tools and information.

As a result, employees are empowered to bring their best to every conversation, maximizing their potential.

We recommend that you look at Cisco’s cognitive collaboration solutionsOpens a new window that are powered by its proprietary AI technology. The solution covers intelligent workspaces, remote collaborations, and other essentials for solving business problems with diverse contributions.

4. A tool for hiring top-tier freelancers

Onboarding freelancers is an excellent way to introduce cognitive diversity into the workplace, especially if you are a smaller company. And this should include top-tier talent from around the world who bring their unique experience in new domains, technologies, and cultures.

Consider ToptalOpens a new window , a platform that gives you access to the top 3% of the world’s freelance talent.

You could even place these hires in leadership positions, for example, as product and project managers. This will let your employees experience a diverse range of leadership styles, encouraging cognitive diversity in the workplace. Toptal’s clients include Motorola, HPE, and NetApp, among others, so you’re in good company.

Learn More: 3 Ways Technology Can Help Promote Diversity in the WorkplaceOpens a new window

Closing Thoughts: Key Takeaways on the Way Forward

This year, your D&I initiatives can take on a new dimension by focusing on cognitive diversity. Apart from leveraging the four technologies, we discussed, you can also:

  • Democratize data so that employees can make decisions informed by more diverse data sets
  • Use AR/VR to simulate problem scenarios, encouraging different reactions from employees
  • Offer soft skills training so that every employee feels confident about sharing their opinions

These simple tips, along with the right set of technology tools, will get you one step closer to enabling cognitive diversity in the workplace.

It’s not just about meeting a quota or following a particular policy. Cognitive diversity ensures equal representation for every employee demographic and gives them the voice, confidence, and channel to make a difference to your company’s bottom line.

Are you taking proactive steps to ensure cognitive diversity in the workplace? Tell us on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We’d love to know more about your HR strategy!