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Why diversity needs to go beyond race and gender

August 13, 2015, 8:30 PM UTC

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Laura Cox Kaplan, regulatory affairs and public policy leader at PwC.

A strong, collaborative team will help you deliver sound, creative results and has become increasingly important regardless of your industry or business — that includes government and non-profits. The strongest teams are those that are diverse even beyond race and gender — teams whose individual members bring varying perspectives that culminate from both professional and life experiences. These teams are even more effective when team members feel supported by each other and the organization. Here’s my advice for not only building a strong, diverse team but also for retaining and engaging them:

Think broadly about diversity
Look for talent that brings different perspectives and skills to the table. Homogenous teams tend to produce less creative results, so look beyond your network. Look for candidates with a variety of experiences across a number of different fields or areas — so-called “tri-sector athletes” — who have worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors, for example. A range of experiences likely shows both agility and a deeper understanding of how to craft strategies that work across sectors. It also means they may be more likely to challenge the status quo and will encourage the team to think more broadly. When recruiting, consider things like: where the candidate has lived over the course of their life; their socioeconomic background; whether they speak a second language; and various career junctures in different sectors.

See also: Talent alone won’t make your business successful

Get to know your employees
Building loyal, happy teams also requires that you understand and appreciate employee interests and responsibilities outside of work. Encouraging flexible work options makes a tremendous difference in recruiting and retaining a truly diverse team. For working parents, the benefits of this approach are obvious, but it is also a high priority for millennials and other employees. Most of all, allow for creative work options — from flexible hours, to job sharing and managed off-ramping programs. At PwC, when we put in place an unlimited sick leave policy, the number of sick days taken actually went down.

Encourage mentorship networks
Encourage team members to support and mentor each other. It is not enough for the team lead or senior leadership to mentor employees. Instead, it is much more effective when the concept is embedded in the culture of the organization as a way to further embrace connectivity between employees and teams. It is also a key to staying on top of employee engagement, and it can be especially critical to supporting and encouraging diversity. Allow time and outlets for these conversations.

See also: The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office

Invest in a talent pipeline
Encourage your team to extend their personal and the organization’s professional brand to prospective employees including potential recruits in college and even in high school. Encourage team members to use their skills and business knowledge to help students not only develop important business skills and perspectives, but to educate them on the work you do and to show them an example they may not have had the opportunity to see. This can be especially important when trying to move the needle on diversity.

Actually listen to different perspectives
Diversity enables teams to examine issues from a broader range of perspectives — something that is very difficult to do if your team is comprised of like-mined thinkers. But be prepared to support those different and distinct points of view. Diversity for diversity sake is not as meaningful if you don’t truly listen to the different perspectives and implement them. As technology continues to make the world smaller and more interconnected, organizations and teams must perform while simultaneously adapting and changing. Embedding important concepts that make teams not only more diverse, but more agile and adaptable will be critical.

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Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.

How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.