Every company wants to improve profitability. The language of the dollar is spoken around the world. There are thousands of studies that prove diversity increases our chance for long term survival and success. Think about it ecologically, the more variation in a forest, or among a species, the better its chances to thrive over time. Consider an investment portfolio, increased diversity means reduced risk. If every good leader or manager knows this, then why are we seeing mixed results with our diversity efforts?

Let’s admit it. The range of emotions stirred by the mere word “diversity” range from empowerment to resentment. It’s an emotional atomic bomb in the workplace and forcing companies to hire more females because they’re females, for example, simply isn’t effective. It is demotivating to both well-performing men and to women who want to be hired based on qualifications. Our society has become diversity fatigued with its ongoing attempts to drive equality based on demographics—ethnicity, gender, age etc.

What if we had tools that avoid traditional bias while increasing diversity? We do. Let’s look at the face of diversity differently—through the lens of how we think, not how we look.  If we want real change, we need to present positive solutions that improve respect and diversity for everyone, and that are relevant and actionable.  Cognitive-based tools have been around for decades, but until now have not been used effectively to align employee strengths with organizational strategy.

New tools, like the 3-D AEM Cube model, identify both employee strengths and corporate strategy. Companies that align employee strengths with their desired strategy make more money. Their employees will perform better, when affiliated with the right organization, too. I can speak to alignment (and misalignment) of my strengths with prior employers’ strategies from personal experience.

As a 22-year-old bank teller, who interviewed for a securities position at a local Kentucky savings bank, I was called into the president’s office for the results. The president, a well-groomed, middle-aged man, was joined by a couple other bank officers.  He told me, without mincing words, “Your test scores are the highest we’ve seen here, and interview answers were better than the other candidate. But…let’s face it, we all know that no one is going to let a young female be responsible for their money.”

Disappointed, I wasn’t sure whether to thank him for telling me how well my interview went or be angry that they gave it to someone else because I was younger and female. (It didn’t occur to me at the time that the bank needed risk-averse, long-term employees to succeed with its conservative, maintain-status-quo strategy.)

Three weeks later, I went to work for another local bank—a bank with a high growth strategy that needed innovative thinkers and risk takers. With my creativity and eagerness to try new markets (a.k.a. willingness to fail, adjust, try again, repeat) this employer was a match made in heaven. Within 6 years, I’d risen to CEO of the bank’s payments division. Under my guidance, our company was chosen to transfer payments as part of the Army’s $15 billion housing revitalization program.

The irony wasn’t lost—a LOT of money would be moved through the hands of a young female. Most importantly, however, the experience changed the way I perceived career failure and success. I had the choice to fixate on gender bias for missing out on the securities position; or, I could realize that my strengths were out of alignment with that bank’s strategy.

Diversity drives dollars. Companies now have the opportunity to embrace new science and tools in cognitive diversity—getting the right workforce in place without creating resentment. According to the Harvard Business Review, these tools, like the Human Insights’ AEM Cube, make for smart business. Cognitive diversity shifts focus from one’s looks to his thinking, reinforcing that it’s what’s inside our heads that really counts.

Tabitha A. Scott CEM, CDSM, Founder & CEO Cole Scott Group, www.ColeScottGroup.com

Learn more at the Strategic Diversity Symposium in Nashville, April 25-26th