Why charities and NFP's should champion cognitive diversity

Published: 11th February 2021

Why charities and  NFP's should champion cognitive  diversity Why charities and  NFP's should champion cognitive  diversity

Cognitive diversity relates to differences in perspectives and differences in information processing styles and is not related to gender, age, or ethnicity. Instead, it refers to the way in which people absorb information, process it and then react to it. The way in which individuals take in information and choose to act upon this will differ between everyone and this is because people process things and think in different ways.

Having a high level of cognitive diversity within a workplace should make for a more inclusive, open and collaborative space where all individuals have the opportunity and space to put forward new ideas, plans and ways of doing things. Celebrating and championing cognitive diversity means actively seeking out people who process things in different ways and curating a team of people who perform intellectual activities uniquely.

It can be incredibly tempting (and, in fact, human nature) to want to work with people who think and act the same way as we do, however, this can lead to many problems within a workplace. This can mean a space with no innovation – a stagnant workplace where creativity doesn’t flow and there isn’t the generation of fresh, new ideas on a regular basis. Organisations need this to grow, move forward and thrive, especially during the current pandemic where everything is so turbulent and massively changed from this time last year.

One reason why individuals are programmed to want to surround themselves with and work with those who are similar to them is simple – fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of new ideas and ways of doing things. As human beings, it is easier and more comfortable to stick with what we know and what we’re familiar with, however, this can massively hold an organisation back from reaching its full potential.

One of the many benefits of having a workplace with a high level of cognitive diversity is that different employees will come up with different ways of solving problems, carrying out processes and doing even the simplest of tasks. All of these new ideas and suggestions put forward by employees who think differently can add up to big changes for an organisation if they’re willing to embrace them.

Cognitive diversity also means having people who have different perspectives on things which can be incredibly helpful for organisations. By actively searching for volunteers, employees and board members who have different cognitive makeups, charities and not-for-profit organisations will end up with a creative and innovative space.

It is not enough, however, to seek out and hire those with different cognitive natures to our own. Organisations must work hard once candidates join their organisation to ensure that all opinions, ideas, suggestions and ways of doing things are welcomed and valued so that individuals feel able to bring their ideas to the table at any time.

All too often, leaders within organisations either consciously or subconsciously suppress cognitive diversity as they make decisions and respond to others suggestions or ideas with their own cognitive makeup and biases at the forefront of their mind. This can lead to shutting down other people’s input and ideas and creating a negative culture which can lead to people being afraid to disagree with leaders.

Instead, leaders must work hard to ensure their own cognitive way of thinking, processing and reacting to information doesn’t affect the way in which they receive information and ideas from others. Leaders who embrace new things and welcome new ideas and ways of doing things will witness their team becoming faster and better at problem solving leading to strong competitive advantage.

Leaders must strive to always encourage ‘different’ and not stifle it and diminish it. Having a workplace where cognitive diversity is addressed in a positive way will mean volunteers, employees and board members feel comfortable asking questions, giving their opinion and putting forward suggestions as they know fresh thinking and different perspectives are always welcomed.

All of this helps to create a positive and inclusive culture within an organisation and makes sure everyone feels as though they can participate without worrying about how their suggestion
or opinion will be received. 

Seeking out cognitive diversity for an organisation must begin right at the start of the hiring process. So often in a hiring process questions such as ‘is this person the right fit for our company?’ come up and often that can be the wrong question to ask. Instead, it would be more prudent to question whether the person can bring something different to the charity or not-for-profit. Embracing diversity in all its forms will make for a better culture within a charity or not-for-profit, make for a better brand which is more attractive to volunteers, employees, supporters and board members and make it better able to reach a wider audience. Committing to celebrating and attracting a high level of cognitive diversity will benefit not just individuals but whole organisations massively.


This article is featured in Change Makers magazine Issue 4

See publication