Making games is all about innovation. And making games is complex. And diverse teams can outperform expert teams on these types of tasks. Previously I shared some tips for building diverse teams.
Once you’ve built your team, your biases don’t go away. If you build a diverse team, you may have different management challenges than with a team of people just like yourself. If you can get past your biases, you’ll have a better, more innovative, higher performing team; you’ll develop your employees more; and you’ll get better at what you do.
Minimize Unconscious Bias
We do most of our processing unconsciously and everyone’s thinking suffers from incorrect assumptions. We all have this. It is a product of the culture we are raised in. For example, women and men in North America both display the same level of implicit assumptions about women.
To learn more about unconscious bias and how to counter it:
- You can take the Implicit Association Tests.
- Or better yet, watch Google’s talk.
- Read the Harvard Business Press book Managing Diversity and apply the tools contained within it. (It’s a very quick read.) (Much of the ideas in this post are from that book.)
- Expose yourself to as much diversity as possible. Go to lunch with someone you wouldn’t normally go to lunch with.
- An interesting exercise is to think of the person in your organization who is most different from you in as many aspects as possible and invite them to lunch.
As managers we often identify with and focus on our top performers, our “best candidates”, our “superstars”. We may even pick a favourite who reminds us of ourselves.
Or, we focus on those who are struggling and need help.
But the ~80% in between the top and the bottom performers are a great resource who will stay on our teams longer and build their expertise and their performance with experience.
The superstars will develop on their own, and they will also tend to leave. They move around a lot. The under-performers will need to learn to figure out things on their own, and may also tend to leave, or to improve and move into the middle group.
(Thanks to Aleissia Laidacker for the ideas in this section.)
Pay attention to team members, not just superstars.
Avoid Assimilation, Differentiation
Assimilation is the idea that we, as people, are all the same. It puts pressure on employees to downplay differences. An example of this would be when I was the only woman programmer in my company and I would wear ratty video game t-shirts and no make-up so I would stand out less.
But differences exist and can be celebrated. Different backgrounds, perspectives, etc. are valuable. ***However, avoid differentiation.
Differentiation is the idea that diverse employees are different and are suited to certain tasks. This pigeonholes employees.
One example of this is when someone told me during a performance evaluation that they hadn’t been planning to hire me because I was a woman, and everyone knows women can’t program, but that he had convinced everyone because he knew that women programmed differently, and that they could study me and maybe learn something. He figured that I would think more systemically then the others, and that he could tell which parts of a certain game on my resume I had coded. (He was right about me thinking systemically, maybe, but not right about which parts of that game I had coded.)
Another example of this is when someone asked me during an interview if I was a better manager than a man, since women have special powers over men. I’ve never been a manager as a man, so I have no way to test that theory, but I think it’s crap.
For all traits where we find averages differences between men and women, the bell curves still vastly overlap. You can’t assume anything about an individual.
Inclusion is the idea of a workplace free of assumptions, where ideas can come from anywhere and open discussion is fostered. This is what to aim for. We can’t be scared to acknowledge differences and we can’t assume they exist where they may not.
Bonus: When you foster an inclusive environment, it is not just the diverse employees who tend to perform better. Members of the dominant group will also tend to feel more comfortable bringing forward any previously hidden unique and weird talents or ideas.
If you have a dominant group on your team, team members in the minority group can experience sidelining and stereotyping.
There seems to be a 30% threshold. For example, if you have less than 30% women, sidelining and stereotyping may occur, while it tends not to occur once you have >30% women. The opposite can occur as well: If you have less than 30% men, they may be sidelined.
If you manage a team that has a dominant group and has minority groups that are <30%, you’ll need to watch for problems. If problems occur, structural intervention, such as restructuring the team to break up bully groups, is more effective than managerial intervention.
Be Open And Creative With Team Building
On a diverse team, cultural differences in communication styles and norms can be a challenge and everyone will have to be ready to be open and flexible.
As well, conventional team building activities may not apply. While I enjoyed going to a hockey game once or twice to learn about why my colleagues enjoy it, it’s still not my preferred activity. I like ballet tickets. Find ways for team building activities to really foster understanding between groups.
Sponsor Someone And Seek Sponsorship
Offer sponsorship. All mentoring is not the same. Mentors who go beyond giving feedback and advice and also use their influence to advocate for the mentee are sponsors. High-potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to their male peers. Without sponsorship, women are less likely than men to be given top roles and also more reluctant to take them.
And if you are not part of the dominant group, seek sponsorship. Seek as many mentors as you can find. Your sponsor or mentor does not need to be part of the same minority group(s) as you are, but they should be aware of the issues surrounding bias etc. You may need to train them yourself.