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March 23, 2023

IT Professionals with Art Backgrounds – Case Study in Diversifying by Thought Process?

In today’s world, technology is ubiquitous, and IT organizations have become an essential part of almost every industry. With the growing demand for technological skills, it’s crucial for IT organizations to diversify their thinking to promote innovation and creative problem-solving.

On a recent podcast that can be found here, Joe Moreau – former Vice Chancellor of Technology for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District – described how his background as an art student and freelance videographer helped him become a systems thinker and pattern recognition expert in the IT field. According to Moreau, as an art student, one learns to see the big picture and individual components of a piece of art and how they work together to create tension or coherence, which is a skill set that can be applied to analyzing complex IT systems. Additionally, art students develop translation and interpretation skills that can be useful in interpreting complex information systems and explaining them to colleagues who might find them challenging to understand. 


While speaking to Joe, this concept made immediate sense to me. My mother and sister are artists, I have dabbled in painting and graphic design, and I take pride in applying my pattern recognition and process design skills in my work. But when I asked ChatGPT – who helped me to write this blog by the way – to find solid evidence of the art/IT connection, I ultimately had to steer an otherwise rosy and presumptuous exchange to produce the following generative admission: 


“There is limited direct evidence available to specifically link the addition of senior managers and executives with backgrounds in art to the improvement of enterprise information technology organizations’ abilities to recognize patterns, apply systems level thinking, and think outside the box. However, there is evidence that hiring individuals with diverse backgrounds, including those with experience in the arts, can benefit organizations in terms of innovation and problem-solving.” 


This mini research project brought me back in touch with several studies that do support the broader connection between diverse teams and team performance. Most notable among these – the 2015 McKinsey report entitled Diversity Matters – found that “…companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns.” The data in this report indicate a higher positive impact from ethnic diversity than gender diversity, and this finding helped set the context for an earlier podcast on DEI and Its Pivotal Role in Higher Ed featuring Kim Wells, Executive Director, Office of Executive Education at the Howard University School of Business 


A Credit Suisse study published in 2012 found that large-cap companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed their peer group with no women on the board by 26% over the preceding six years. Notably, the report also pointed out that “…in the middle of the decade when economic growth was relatively robust, there was little difference in share price performance between companies with and companies without women on the board. However, post the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent deterioration in the macro environment, stocks with women on the board have strongly outperformed those without any woman on the board.” 


These studies are helpful reminders of something that many of us sense – i.e., that ethnic and gender diversity can broaden and enhance a team’s thought process and ability to perform. But my conversation with Joe Moreau really sparked a broader possibility – i.e., that diversity of thought process should be an important attribute of team composition. Perhaps you agree and have some evidence to support this? Or maybe you disagree and have evidence to support some other point of view. Either way, I’d love to hear your perspective! 

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