Diversity is often thought of in terms of something we’re told is important; something we’re told we need to do. We think we need to create a more diverse workforce because we *should* - because it's moral, because it's ethical, because of compliance.
But diversity isn’t a problem that needs solving; it's a solution to one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of business innovation success today: Variety in thinking.
Unfortunately, very few are seeing diversity as a solution. In fact, studies have found that only just over one third of businesses are prioritising the building a diverse workforce.
For a long time, diversity has been seen as a luxury. For many, that’s a luxury that they simply can’t afford. However, leading industry experts in D&I are noting that a lack of diversity in the workplace could mean businesses ‘lose out on very real opportunities to innovate their business model’, especially as ‘diverse teams have been shown to be more likely to radically innovate and anticipate shifts in consumer needs and consumption patterns— helping their companies to gain a competitive edge’.
Why? Because diversity matters when it comes to executing your innovation strategy. Teams composed of vastly different people - rather than carbon copies - will naturally lead to more different, more innovative thinking, facilitating the innovation process.
The fact is that creating an office of carbon copies can happen very easily, whether you intend to do it or not. When you’ve got people all working to the same processes, in the same way - and when they’ve been working in this way for years - it’s so easy to get stuck in a certain way of thinking. To innovate, you need someone who’s going to look at things differently, perhaps via consideration of the three lenses of innovation. This is a tricky task when you’re holding onto tradition and a set way of doing things.
As the diversity and innovation statistics above show, there are many possible benefits to creating greater diversity across organisations looking to innovate. These include:
Different ways of thinking: You may have multiple innovation ideas that need to be researched and investigated. With a diverse workforce, who think in different ways, you can spark more comprehensive evaluations to invest in the right ideas.
The problem today is that diversity has become synonymous with gender and ethnicity. And while these two factors are certainly important, we need to start looking beyond differences in sex and background to diversify even more and generate greater value.
For example, a business support agency may match you with a female consultant if you’re looking for a diverse innovation partner. However, to reach the position of a consultant, this person has likely been in the industry for a long time, and has very well-established ideologies. So you’re getting the same ideas, and the same view of reality, but from someone that may not look like how you expect a consultant to look.
Now, in terms of equal opportunities and closing the gender gap, this is fantastic. But in terms of innovation, it’s not bringing in the sort of fresh ideas that organisations need.
It’s time to start thinking about diversity in terms of age, in terms of experience, in terms of professional experiences, and in terms of views of the world. This is what’s going to help us see things differently, and it’s what’s going to help us to achieve our goals.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about building a diverse workforce is that diversity alone isn’t a magical solution. It’s not just about ticking the diversity box; you have to ensure you’re leading and guiding your diverse team towards success.
And this is something many people overlook. In fact, 80% say that they’re not very effective at inclusive leadership. Focusing on creating positive experiences for your team, and empowering them to innovate, is a critical factor you can’t underestimate.