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Building Diverse Teams: The Ketchup Question

“It’s the right thing to do.” This simple conclusion                was an early driver for HR professionals and hiring managers to add diversity initiatives to their recruitment strategies. Next came a slightly more nuanced line of reasoning – research study data showed a correlation between diverse employee populations and positive revenue trends. While the target remained the same — building teams with diverse perspective and experiences — the data to support diversity hiring has evolved over time. One simple question exemplifies why building a team of diverse players is so important, and it likely won’t be what you expect.

A great case study example to support diversity hiring is found in the answers to one simple question…“Where do you keep your ketchup?”

Likely, you immediately thought of a specific location when reading that question. It is key to know that your answer is strongly based on geography and culture. More specifically, it is influenced by the part of the world where you grew up as we pass on traditions like this down family lines.

Did you know that Americans are more likely to keep ketchup in the refrigerator?

When a substitute condiment is needed, they turn to neighbors in the fridge like mustard or mayonnaise because of its proximity. On the other hand, British natives and African Americans from the south usually keep their ketchup in the pantry, so opt for malt vinegar or tabasco when the tomato-based sauce is unavailable.

How does a story about your ketchup’s home base contribute to the case for building diverse teams?

The obvious takeaway is that differing perspectives lead to different results – a great outcome when you consider how important creative problem-solving is in creating a competitive advantage.

Solutions can turn stale or outdated if the people making them are mirror images of each other… attended the same schools, grew up in the same part of the country, came from a similar ethnic background. Scott Page, professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan, points out that a number of not-so-obvious factors influence how we solve problems. People who are similar tend to use the same tools and paths to come to a conclusion. More importantly, the ketchup scenario shows that diverse teammates look for answers in a different pool of information. Think of what this could mean in the brainstorming stage of a new idea!

In addition to bringing new ideas to the table, a cast of diverse employees sharpens the analytical abilities of every member in the group. Your brain is kept on its toes when alternative perspectives are added to a conversation. Connections in your brain are strengthened as your point of view is challenged and you process new information. Additionally, the exposure to people with different approaches and outlooks may help you identify bias in your train of thought as you compare and contrast how you interpret and respond to data.

The need for building diverse teams is not a new one. Teams elevate their game when they are staffed with individuals who come from different backgrounds and offer unique points of view. Look no further than your kitchen cabinet (or fridge) to be reminded why diversity is a necessity for novel solutions.