By Laura Gordon

At long last diversity in the workplace is being taken more seriously than ever.

Companies are now implementing dedicated strategies to improve and measure diversity to show they mean business.

Finally, the penny is dropping that a diverse workforce is stronger, more productive and more creative, thanks to varied skills and insights.

Diversity can take so many forms, so today I want to put the spotlight on one form in particular – cognitive diversity.

It’s not a phrase we hear particularly often, despite its importance.

It refers to different ways of thinking, different ways of approaching problems, different outlooks and perspectives.

A huge advocate of cognitive diversity is journalist, author, broadcaster and champion table tennis player Matthew Syed. His book Rebel Ideas is truly thought-provoking as he argues that intelligence alone is not enough to tackle complex problem-solving tasks.

And he cautions against assembling teams that are so similar they’ll be guilty of “group think” instead of bringing meaningful and impactful creative thinking to the table.

Just last week Vistage held a virtual summit which saw executives from across the UK coming together to discuss “Leading in Challenging Times” in order to learn from a wide range of data and insights.

Matthew Syed was a keynote speaker and I was honoured to be part of a panel discussion he hosted.

He warned that companies that reduce the diversity agenda to a box-ticking exercise are mistaken if they want to create a workplace with a high-performing culture.

And it was fascinating to hear him discuss one particular barrier to achieving cognitive diversity…the ego of senior executives.

Some like to surround themselves with like-minded people because it gives their ideas validation. When people challenge them and offer differing opinions it can undermine their feeling of being the expert. These leaders often suffer from a closed, fixed mindset.

I’m sure we can all relate to this and picture a previous employer who meets this description. I certainly can, and it can be extremely challenging.

But it’s such a shame because if you’re willing to bring in people who challenge your own views it can pay dividends. Encouraging constructive conflict needn’t threaten the hierarchy – indeed it can reap tremendous rewards and is the mark of a true leader.

One of my fellow panellists on the day was Kenny Blair of family-run business Buzzworks Holdings, one of Scotland’s fastest-growing independent restaurant and bar operators.

The company invests heavily in employee training and wellbeing, runs a work-life balance initiative, and is an active contributor and fundraiser in the community.

He was praised for being a leader who doesn’t shy away from encouraging debate and challenging group think, and in my view his growth mindset and that of his fellow directors has been instrumental in the company’s success.

It struck me that there’s an interesting comparison to be made with another environment we’re in every day where we see a “group mindset”, and that’s social media.

We’ve all heard the phrase “social media echo chamber” which refers to that virtual bubble we end up in, surrounded by people who share our views, and where we find our views mirrored back at us.

It’s satisfying up to a point, as it validates our own perspective, but it doesn’t do much to facilitate debate or open minds.

If you run a business, now is the time to reflect on the culture of your business and ask yourself honestly if you and your people are in an echo chamber. If so, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone, and encourage some true cognitive diversity.

Laura Gordon is a CEO coach and group chair with Vistage International, a global leadership development network for CEOs