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Blog > How to make the best of the diversity on your team

How to make the best of the diversity on your team

posted on Oct 22, 2018

by Maria Lahiffe

Diversity matters. Diverse teams demonstrate greater creativity [1] and objectivity [2], serve clients better [3], and achieve superior financial performance [4].

However, these benefits only accrue if diverse viewpoints are welcomed and included on your team [5]. This may be easier said than done. Here, we will discuss some practical things you can do to make sure diverse team members are able to bring their whole selves to their work.

Check your biases [6]

First off: are you a human? If yes, then you have biases. It’s part of the human condition. The first step is to acknowledge that about yourself.

The next step is to find out what your biases are. This is tough because biases are very often unconscious. Harvard University has a good online test which can help you to figure out what your unconscious biases are.

Once you know what your biases are, the next step is to expose yourself to your own biases with mindfulness. Check your inclination to speak your mind; instead, listen and observe. Find common ground, and things that others do better than you do. Remember, great teams work together, capitalizing on each individual’s strengths to make the whole team more than the sum of its individual parts.

Think about the unspoken [7]

People who belong to a different group than your own will approach things differently to you. They may communicate the same ideas in a different way, use unfamiliar gestures, or show emotion in a different way than you do.

Eye contact

Canadians, by and large, consider eye contact to be a sign of connection between people, of confidence and respect. This is not universal world-wide; in fact, in some cultures, making eye contact is a sign of disrespect. If a team member won’t meet your eye, they may be communicating a deep respect.


Canadians value a firm handshake, where only the hands are touching. Like eye contact, this is not universal. In some cultures, a soft, weak handshake is normal, with firm handshaking seen as aggressive. On the other hand, there are other cultures where it is normal to shake hands vigorously while putting your other hand on the person’s elbow. If you’re a typical Canadian, you may find this an invasion of personal space.


Canadians are renowned worldwide for our friendliness, partly because we smile a lot. In many cultures, people only smile if they are embarrassed, while other cultures, such as Germanic cultures, reserve their smiles for truly happy occasions. So if the person you’re recruiting keeps a straight face, you may feel uncomfortable.

Treat others how THEY want to be treated

Remember the Golden Rule? Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. Actually, here is a better one: treat others the way they want to be treated. Be sensitive to the boundaries and expectations of others. If you are not sure, then ASK. If you cause offense, then apologize. We are all human, which means we make mistakes.

Beware of “othering”

Othering is any action which communicates that a person or group is “not one of us”. [8] There is evidence that othering can lead to bullying and even violence [9] [10]. Even if it does not go that far, a person who is “othered” will typically withdraw from the situation, either physically or mentally. In the latter case, “othered” people will not bring their full selves to a team [11], which will negate the benefits of diversity.

Some examples of othering include

  • Organizing a staff potluck during Ramadan
  • Gendered washrooms
  • Consistently referring to non-specific people as “he” or “him”
  • Consistently scheduling important work on a particular Sabbath
  • Piling boxes in a hallway, narrowing its navigable width for people who use wheelchairs

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Related blog posts:

[1] "Do Diverse Teams Perform Better?," Human Resources Director (HRD) Australia, 15 January 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [2] D. Rock and H. Grant, "Why Diverse Teams are Smarter," Harvard Business REview, 4 November 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [3] L. Biggins, "Why a Diverse Workforce is Important to Business," Real Business, 7 February 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [4] P. Gompers and S. Kovvali, "The Other Diversity Dividend," Harvard Business Review, July 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [5] K. McGahey, Interviewee, Senior Manager, Stakeholder Relations, Hire Immigrants Ottawa. [Interview]. 2017. [6] L. Kelly, "How to Check your Unconscious Biases," Folio, 2 May 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [7] L. Goldman, "Seven Tips for Interviewing Culturally Diverse Candidates," Monster, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [8] "Othering 101: What is "Othering"?," There are No Others, 28 December 2011. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [9] j. a. powell and S. Menendian, "The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging," Othering & Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [10] j. a. powell, "Us vs Them: The sinister techniques of "othering" and how to avoid them," The Guardian, 8 November 2017. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018]. [11] I. Law, M. Feischmidt, S. Mannitz, G. Strassburger and S. Swann, "The Experiences and Consequences of "Othering"," 2010. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 19 October 2018].
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