What the Avengers Taught Me About Diversity in the workplace

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By Noble Ackerson, this post was first published on The Startup Couch

TL;DR A diverse and inclusive team wins because you play to the strengths of each other and bring perspectives that a team with similar backgrounds can’t easily achieve.

Before we move forward, let’s get some definitions out of the way. When I say “creating a diverse workplace,” I mean going out of your way to find qualified candidates who, when observed as a team, do not share common backgrounds, race, culture, or gender. I’m referring to an ‘Avengers-type’ team that can’t be labeled; a band of ninjas, geniuses, hackers, and hulks who don’t all fall into one group of like-minded individuals. That’s all.

Working in the type of environment where everyday you are subtly reminded you don’t really belong. It sucks.

The dynamics of homogenous teams are the result of ineffective recruitment strategies geared toward hiring diverse candidates or a rush to fill your team with diverse candidates just to call your team diverse which results in a lack of inclusivity amidst your company culture.

My most stressful experiences came from working in these environments, and it made me appreciate similar stories.

A startup culture that is not inclusive, results in a homogeneous talent acquisition, which affects team dynamics that don’t embrace different people, cultures, or races.

For leadership, this means a lack of diversity when finding new talent and a resistance to differing viewpoints, which affects decisions made daily.

It’s worse when things are going well in the short term, so it is hard to see when progress becomes stale and when civil wars begin to brew. It’s thereby wise to take lessons where we can, and in this case, from one of the most powerful superhero teams ever assembled: The Avengers!

The members of the Avengers each have unique origin stories, worldviews, and strengths, which give them a competitive advantage against their villains. To bring them together, the S.H.I.E.L.D organization went to great lengths to recruit a diverse team. Sure, the team clashed at first, but they found each others’ complementary traits, and realized that together, they were stronger than any one individual. When the group of superheros finally assembled, they moved mountains, or for the sake of the analogy, they moved cities — literally.

The “Earth’s mightiest heroes” are easily the world’s most powerful superhero team ever! (Sorry, Justice League. I’ma let you finish, but…). Actually, the same can be said about the Suicide Squad, or Justice League, or any superhero team, but that’s not the point.

The point is, at first these teams never seem to realize how their diverse skill sets complement one another. But when they do, they leverage the diverse ideas, strengths, worldview, and origins to win — consistently.

I think I’ve taken this analogy as far as it can go. Just kidding, we haven’t, let’s move on!

The only homogeneity in your startup should be about your mission and vision; not team dynamics.

The leadership of the Avengers rallies their team around a common purpose and that vision is fortified by an understanding of how their unique traits make them better.

As a leader, it is critical you get this right as you see what happens when a splintered common purpose leads to civil war. The lessons here are simple:

1. Recruit diverse teams

Like S.H.I.E.L.D, go to great lengths to make sure you are recruiting the right people with teams who recognize how diversity amongst the individual team members creates a better company.

2. Nurture Inclusion

Growing a culture where company values encourage compassionate and inclusive teams is important. These values in turn influence the culture your team develops.

3. Be Aware of Hidden Biases Within Your Values

I’m paraphrasing here, but Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, defines values as operating principles that leadership looks to in order to make day-to-day decisions. They become your why, a driver for your company’s purpose according to Simon Sinek.

Your potential hires and existing team members are buying into the sense of purpose that you have established. That sense of purpose is best realized when a diverse group executes values to achieve it everyday. This purpose is bigger than race, gender, or class in society.

This brand of a diverse and inclusive culture attracts candidates who have already bought into your mission. And you win because diverse teams bring new ideas to the table. Your team members are welcoming to new ideas from people who don’t fit the mold.

So if you want to win, recruit like S.H.I.E.L.D, and build leadership like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

Be like the Avengers. Be a winner.