Amey Brown
posted by Amey Brown on October 8, 2019

On the 26th of September, I attended the Women in Project Management conference held by the Association of Project Management (APM). This year’s conference aimed to challenge how diversity can deliver better balance to the project profession. I want to share my top two takeaways from the conference.

Identity Diversity vs Cognitive Diversity

In one of the talks, Jess Annison and Matthew Moran covered the different types of diversity and how businesses can adopt these concepts to increase profits – these are Identity Diversity and Cognitive Diversity.

What stood out to me the most was cognitive diversity. This is more than the colour of a person’s skin, their gender or sexual orientation, it looks at the different perspectives a person may have, their mental models, knowledge and different ways of learning. This is important because you may have three people who look entirely different, but if they all share the same educational background and career path, they won’t bring any variety to your business.

To expand on this below is an example with ABCDEF representing the individual’s skillsets:

Team A: Social Diversity – ABCD

The team is made up of three socially diverse people with visible differences in appearance. However, they have all experienced the same type of life experiences and have been in the same types of industries throughout their careers.

Team B: Cognitive Diversity – ABCDEF

This team is made up of three people who look similar, however, these people are cognitively diverse, meaning they have come from different backgrounds and have been in different jobs, so have obtained a varied amount of experience and perspectives.

What this shows is that a team of cognitively diverse individuals can bring a greater variety of skills and perspectives than a socially diverse team. This can lead to higher performing teams and long-term higher profitability by having a diverse team.

Innovator or Adaptor?

My second takeaway came from a talk about the difference in the way people approach situations. More specifically, Innovators and Adaptors. This is a particularly important concept to understand when managing people in projects as it can tell you how they will impact on the project, the best ways to communicate with them and what work to send their way.

Innovators are typically good at coming up with ideas quickly and will be better suited to looking at the bigger picture. Whereas, an adaptor will generally put more thought into an idea and is more likely to see the idea through to the end of completion.

When choosing your project team, I understood that you must be mindful of who is an adaptor and who is an innovator because although they will be able to work together, they may find each other frustrating due to their traits. This could lower morale within a team so as a manager always ensure workers are encouraged by each other and that each team members strengths complement each other weaknesses.

I believe that the above subjects are often overlooked by managers. Diversity is a much deeper subject than just the way a person looks, it is how a person thinks, how a person learns, and how they react to certain situations. Because of this, companies are losing out on a true variety of mindsets and attitudes which they could have through hiring a cognitively diverse team.

Through encouraging diverse teams, companies can become a lot more profitable. If a manager understands a person’s strengths and weaknesses, they can be matched with someone that will complement those weaknesses. Using my above example, if a person has the skills A and B, they should be matched with someone that has the skills C and D.

Overall, I found the event was extremely insightful and will be attending again next year to see how things have changed in the workplace with regards to diversity.

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