The value of secret diversity

One of the fourteen million things that make me proud of the NHS is its diversity. From the day it launched in 1948, the National Health Service has relied on staff across the world. From the Windrush generation to today’s workforce, represented by over 200 nationalities, the NHS is more ethnically diverse now than ever before.


This is to be celebrated. But does it mean we’ve “got” diversity?


Not even close.


Putting aside the issues around gender and disability – and I don’t wish to downplay these, as the NHS’s track record is less stellar here – there is another form of diversity. A diversity which is never tracked or measured and very rarely appreciated.


I’m talking about diversity of thought.


I don’t mean people with mental health conditions, where their ‘protected characteristic’ gives them some legal protections. I’m talking about a spectrum of thought within a team or an organisation.


The fact is, it’s terrifyingly easy to work in a team – or an organisation – run by clones. Everyone may look different, but scratch the surface, and they’re the same underneath. They may be extroverts, keen on looking at the big picture, but bored by the details. They may be focused on the future, unwilling to get embroiled in the here and now. Or they may be fascinated by minutiae, unable to look up and see the wood rather than the trees.


This was brought home to me at a recent management meeting. We’d done some psychometric profiling, and although I won’t go as far as to say we’re clones, there was a heavy bias towards people whose preferred working style is people-focused leadership (as opposed to things-focussed management, for example).


It’s not surprising that this happens. We tend to feel comfortable working around people who are similar to us – we like people who are like us. But as a way of running an organisation, it leaves a lot to be desired.


Getting diversity of thought isn’t always easy, but, when appreciated and nurtured, brings resilience, creativity, fun, an excellent service, and a balanced set of books. In short, it’s worth it.


Here, then, are my top tips for improving thought diversity.


  • Understand it. There are loads of psychometric tests available online. They’re of varying quality, but even the worst will give an indication of how similar – or different – your team members are. Why not do a psychometric test as part of your team meeting?
  • Encourage it. Actively encourage dissenting voices. Ask for them! If everyone in your team agrees that a course of action is the right one, ask them why it might not be.
  • Embrace change. As we move through our lives, our beliefs, outlook, and careers change. It’s natural and healthy. Support that change by giving people tasks that are outside their normal day job, but in line with their personality type.
  • Don’t be pigeonholed. Although psychometrics can be a useful tool, even the best of them are limited. No-one is ever “just” a blue, completer-finisher, ISFJ personality type. (If these mean nothing to you, don’t worry – they’re common psychometric profiles). We are all capable of so much more. But in my experience, people are happiest – and work best – when they’re building on their strengths.


So, next time you’re recruiting, promoting, or training, remember – there’s more to diversity than meets the eye.


This is a subject I’m genuinely passionate about, so if you’d like to contact me to talk about improving diversity of thinking in the workplace, please do – I’m on and Twitter @sasutty

By Stephen Sutcliffe, Director of Finance and Accounting, NHS Shared Business Services.