We are all, I hope, familiar with the benefits of diverse workforces. From improved understanding of your customer base to greater innovation and creativity, diverse workforces are proven to deliver greater organisational value and are something we can all play a role in contributing to.
You may be less familiar, however, with the benefits and practicalities of developing a diverse career.
A diverse career enables an individual to join the dots between their own unique set of experiences, relationships and learning to create a more inimitable and valuable impact on the places they work and the people they work with.
Diverse careers make people stand-out. They make you more interesting and as a result, people are more interested in you. A diverse career becomes self-perpetuating. The more you join those dots, the more experiences and relationships emerge to reinforce the cycle.
Diverse careers are not just made by working in lots of different organisations. This can be a factor, but there are also challenges with this approach in being able land your impact in an organisation without having the tenure or trust base to support you.
Instead, I want to share with you some insights about developing your diverse career from where you are today.
There are several things you are in control of that can be done in your current role and your current organisation to increase your career diversity. At its simplest level, this is about who you know, what you do and how you grow.
Who you know
We all have a core set of stakeholders that we work with to do our job. Many of us don’t reflect on the profile of that group or even proactively seek to build relationships outside of it.
As a result, we operate day in and day out with the same people. While this might have benefits for ‘delivery’ it doesn’t maximise the potential benefit to your career diversity.
You are missing an opportunity to learn from others in your business and to broaden your knowledge base of professions and priorities outside of your own.
A diverse career becomes self-perpetuating. The more you join those dots, the more experiences and relationships emerge to reinforce the cycle.
We also shouldn’t lose sight of how diversity can be introduced by our external stakeholders.
I’ve worked for several large organisations in my career and something I have witnessed is the larger the business, the more the focus is on your internal relationships rather than your external relationships.
I’ve always tried to balance this out for myself and my teams. What you can learn from people outside of your business and your industry can be creative fuel for your work.
Many innovations in business are taken from other sectors. Biomimicry for example, is where design and engineering problems can be solved by learning from biology. Joining the dots between these areas has led to the development of everything from Velcro to the Crystal Palace.
A great starting place is to assess the diversity of your current network. Write down the names of people you consider to be part of your network and what percentage of your relationships fall into the following categories.
- Internal and core to your role
- Internal and not core to your role
- External (same industry and or profession)
- External (different industry and or profession)
There isn’t a absolute target and it often flexes depending on how long you have been in role, what you need to learn and from whom.
My personal ratio that I work towards is something like 60:20:15:5. I use this as a guide to reflect on who I’m spending my time with and whether any adjustment is needed to fuel the diversity of my relationships and conversations.
What you do
Many people feel restricted by the ‘confines’ of their role. However, these confines are often self-imposed. There are often many ways to stretch your current role or position yourself for new ones.
Several of the roles I have done, didn’t exist until I did them. The practical way to diversify your job is to be clear about your strengths, be confident in sharing them with others and find ways to demonstrate them.
Let’s say you’re passionate about writing, but it has nothing to do with your role, think about whether you could offer to write a company blog or even start your own.
The practical way to diversify your job is to be clear about your strengths, be confident in sharing them with others and find ways to demonstrate them.
What you do doesn’t only have to apply to your day job, there are many ways to diversify your career by developing side projects which showcase your strengths and fuel your passion.
These opportunities not only enable you to use your strengths, they will help you to develop them by applying them in new contexts.
How you grow
Learning from the same sources and resources can put limits around your personal growth. After a while, your interest wanes and your ability to acquire and retain knowledge is impacted.
However, the more curious and open you can be in looking for diverse learning options the more you can fight against this natural boredom barrier.
Think about how you curate the learning options open to you. Videos, books, events, professional networks can all form part of your personal learning mix.
As well as reflecting on the mix of your sources of learning, it’s also important to keep it fresh. I’ve found one of the most effective ways of refreshing my learning has been to ask other people about how and what they are learning. This has led to podcast recommendations, blogs I now follow and some fantastic book summaries, which have saved me hours of reading.
As well as where you learn from, think about the diversity of what you’re learning. Yes, we can all invest time in upping our marketing capabilities but think about what else you’re absorbing. Sources like Big Think or Brain Pickings are fantastic for broader insight and fuel for curious minds.
Diversity is one on the most important factors in what makes companies and individuals successful. Career diversity is just one aspect of this, but it is one that you are directly in control of and can create a path for others to learn from.
Helen Tupper is commercial marketing director at Microsoft and founder of Amazing If.