Similarity and diversity are at the center of perhaps the most difficult dilemma facing hiring managers today. Creating an optimal workforce balance is incredibly difficult and still not fully understood. It has led many HR spokesmen to simplify the situation to a point that it’s nearly incomprehensible, making it difficult for HR practitioners to find helpful and accurate information.
Because of this mass confusion, we at Elevated Careers by eHarmony would like to shed some light on the similarity vs diversity puzzle and to explain why our matching algorithm can help hiring managers facing this difficult staffing decision.
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Most importantly, any blanketed statement about similarity or diversity being positive (or negative) is misguided and dangerously unsophisticated. The problem is that similarity and diversity are not tangible things.
Similarity and diversity are merely adjectives; they describe the state of a particular characteristic, but they themselves are uninformative without appropriate context. That is, a person simply does not ‘homogenize’ or ‘diversify’ a workforce. Instead, people should be thought of as ‘similar’ or ‘diverse’ on particular characteristics, such as personality, skills, or content knowledge.
Once this is understood, it becomes obvious that similarity and diversity are not competing entities at all. You don’t have to choose one over the other: You can have both at the same time. Of course, this is true! But, it is often forgotten in the similarity-diversity conversation.
When it comes to similarity or diversity, the important question to ask is: When is similarity or diversity valuable?
Benefits of similarity
Similarity is typically most beneficial when it describes attributes that help people get along with one another. Having similar personalities and holding similar values, goals, and ethics are all things that are generally beneficial. They help people communicate and to get past other differences that they may have. Differences in any of these can lead to conflict between team members and between employees and the company as a whole.
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Benefits of Diversity
Generally speaking, if the attribute is not something directly related to job performance, then diversity on that attribute is unlikely to positively influence company outcomes. Attributes that can benefit from diversity include things like skills, knowledge, work experiences, educational background, strategic thinking, and so on.
Diversity as a double-edged sword
Work groups that are diverse in many attributes typically experience initial drops in efficiency, and they sometimes fall apart completely. If workgroups can’t get passed this initial hurdle, they may never get to the point in which diversity begins to make its most important contributions.
However, combining work groups that are similar in personality, values, and goals, while remaining diverse on skills, knowledge, and strategic thinking, can help ameliorate initial negative consequences of diversity.
A few other considerations:
Is the project time sensitive?
Because diversity can lead to initial reductions in efficiency for newly established teams, it should be avoided for time sensitive projects that need to be done quickly.
Does the project require innovation? Diversity can improve creativity and innovation, but often at the cost of efficiency.
All-in-all, the focus should not be on which is better, but rather, which attributes should be diversified or homogenized and when. The Elevated Careers Matching Algorithms have been built to do as such by maximizing similarity that has been empirically tested to improve worker engagement and company outcomes while allowing diversity on attributes that benefit from it.