Published in Jan-Feb 2015
In Pakistan, where universities have been slow to respond to the internet revolution, hiring resources for digital agencies and departments has largely been a less than rewarding experience. Universities here have yet to offer an extensive curriculum in fields such as web programming, digital marketing, user interface design, user experience design or data science for websites, to name a few.
Paradoxically, this also presents a big opportunity for modern workspaces to harness the potential of young minds. This lack of ‘perfect-for-this-job’ resources can actually liberate you to rethink from scratch. For organisations and individuals this creates an environment where no one is an expert, and everyone can bring their diverse educational and professional backgrounds to the workplace.
At The Brand Crew we have had tried to use people’s diverse backgrounds to enhance our own growth as well as theirs. For example, we have worked with people from an accountancy, arts, or social sciences background, and in our experience people with different cultural, educational and professional backgrounds bring unique experiences and perceptions to the table in a collaborative environment.
Digital agencies and departments within large organisations tend to hire people who have worked in the business before and have the required experience. This, however, creates an insular industry where you hire someone who thinks like you and does the same things in the same way you do. Real growth does not come from a ‘yes sir’ approach. Diversity in the workplace can leverage the strengths and complement the weaknesses of every co-worker, thereby making the impact of the workforce greater than the sum of its parts. The internet, due to its fast evolving nature, has given rise to generalists, simply because no one can learn one single thing sufficiently. Having a diverse team with different backgrounds and experiences can mitigate some of the demanding scenarios created by the internet, so long as they are willing to learn new skills and have the right digital mindset.
One of the biggest reasons people switch jobs is not money or location (although both are important); it is because they feel they do not have enough freedom and the right environment to grow further. One way to reduce this friction is to encourage employees to cultivate a lifelong love for acquiring new skills and learning. If you can find a way to channelise their skills and aspirations, path creation becomes easier for them.
One way The Brand Crew has tried to reduce turnover is to encourage people to switch jobs within the company. Obviously, they have to be willing to learn something new but the smart ones will choose something that complements their formal education in some way. You will be surprised how many people will go for the opportunity to do this. Furthermore, the more effective an organisation is in supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organisation will experience from its employees.
Diversity can also mean cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Every employee in a diverse workplace possesses unique strengths and weaknesses derived from their culture as well as their own individuality. Exposure to new ideas, cultures and perspectives can help individuals to develop intellectually and gain a clearer view of their surroundings and their place in the world. Spending time with culturally diverse co-workers can break down subconscious barriers of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, making employees well-rounded members of society.
However, cultural diversity can also be an impediment in communication, so managing diversity is very important. Essential to this task is the ability to handle conflict. Disagreements that arise because of cultural differences must be handled promptly so as to not decrease productivity. Once managed properly, access to a wide range of experiences can increase innovation and idea creation for your business.
An individual with a graphic design background but with an interest in psychology, sociology or anthropology could be well suited to learning user interface design and engineering. Similarly, software engineers who like to try different gadgets, applications and services should start learning about the mobile space. Exposure to different cultures, languages and collective experiences as a team can open up a treasure trove of ideas for new product development, customer interaction strategies and advertising opportunities as well as enable your business to explore new markets. Despite the presence of large datasets from websites and applications, it still helps to use the cultural lens of someone belonging to a geographic area you may be trying to gain insights about. A diverse workforce comfortable with communicating different points of view provides a larger pool of ideas and experiences.
My opinion, after mixed experiences, is that digital agencies will not be able to achieve true diversity if they continue to hire from other agencies. The incestuous relationship that permeates this practice results in mediocre work, lacking in innovation and insights. Part of the problem faced by digital agencies is the large volume of jobs that require multifaceted skills and diversity, and this problem cannot be resolved by confining hiring within the small space of other digital agencies, rather than trying to find new ways of growing talent. Otherwise, we will continue seeing the same faces and same stories at every conference, meeting rooms and coffee shops.
So, we are back to where we started – schools. In my opinion, creating outreach programmes aimed at bringing educational institutes on board is very important. The industry can play a big part in this by conducting outreach programs aimed at informing students about the various fields open to them. Openness in assimilating people from various backgrounds should be, at organisational level, continuously cultivated to grow a workforce able to adapt to the challenges posed by a rapidly changing world.
The digital services sector needs to look for strategies that will address the current reality, as well as solve the diversity problem for the future.
Ejaz Asi is Head of User Experience Design and Operations, The Brand Crew. email@example.com