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The Role of Diversity in Innovation

It’s widely accepted that diversity is important in the workplace. The last decade has seen a greater push for inclusivity within business, and while some partake only by tokenism, many more companies are beginning to understand that diversity is so much more than a box-ticking exercise.

In fact, a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that businesses with a more diverse workplace reported greater innovation revenue than those with below-average diversity scores. But what qualifies as a diverse workplace? And what’s does a homogenous workplace do that is so paralysing to the bottom line?

The Traditional Workplace

If you look at any ‘typical’ Western workplace you’ll statistically find that white-collar employees consist of roughly 60:40 men to women. There may be some diversity in ethnicity, but for the most part the employees will be white. As you begin looking up the chain of command at those in mid-management, senior management, executive roles and ultimately CEO level, that ratio plummets.

Recent research reported by Catalyst casts a grim picture on the state of diversity in Western regions.

  • In Europe, only 37.2% of management roles are filled by women, only 17% of senior executive roles, and just 6.9% at CEO level.

  • In the United States, the story is much the same with women holding 40% of management roles and just 5% of CEO roles in S&P 500 companies.

But gender inequality is far from the extent of the diversity battle. Catalyst found that of the 40% of women who work in mid-management, 32.6% are white women, showing that diversity by race is still sorely lacking.

Diversity in Innovation, Why it Matters

Let’s cut to the chase. Why does diversity matter? Not from an ethical standpoint, as that needs no explanation, but from a business standpoint.

If your company consists of employees largely of the same gender, the same race, come from a similar educational background and have had access to the same privileges that society affords those traits, then you have a group of people who already have far too much in common. They might make a great sports team, but they’re not the people you want to leave in charge of innovation.

Conversely, a team who have different countries of origin, different genders, different educational backgrounds and life experiences will bring a much wider span of ideas to the table. It is this diversity in background that provides each individual with a unique outlook, novel solutions to problems and varying thought processes.

With so many global challenges facing us, can the modern business really afford not to invest in a diverse workplace?

A Holistic Approach to Inclusion

With such an urgent need to begin creating diverse groups at all levels of the business structure, what if you find yourself without the pool to draw from? It’s a sad reality that in many sectors, particularly in the STEM industries, the vast majority of entry candidates are white men. Considering its software developers, physicists, analysts and engineers that we so desperately need in order to spearhead the next wave of innovation, how can we encourage a more diverse cohort into these fields?

The most obvious option is to encourage a wider pool of people to take up study in these fields. Bursaries and grants for students from ethnic minorities, who have additional needs or who would otherwise struggle to secure a place, can remove the financial hurdle for those passionate about the industry.

Likewise, investing in community projects or educational programs that aim to expose children to your industry is a wise investment in the future. Companies like Million Women Mentors in the US, and the WISE Campaign in Europe are great examples.

And finally, analyse the way your own business operates and whether it is conducive to a diverse workplace. Do your maternity policies support women staying in their role after having a child? Are you equipped to employ someone with physical or mental differences? Do your levels of management demonstrate the type of diversity that inspires others? And if you aren’t confident of the answers to these questions, ask someone who is directly affected by them.

Together, a more innovative, productive future is just around the corner.

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