How Does Diversity and Inclusion Impact Innovation?

How Does Diversity and Inclusion Impact Innovation?
  • Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
By: Rob Hoehn

Nearly all executives believe the long-term success of their business depends on the flow, testing, and development of new ideas. One of the problems is the old belief in the “creative genius” – that creativity and innovation belongs to a talented few and not to everyone.

Because of this bias, sometimes leaders will source one or two essential individuals that they believe are innovative, offer them a leadership role and start looking exclusively to them for strategic ideas and direction. However, that doesn’t create innovation.

There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that innovation requires the participation and deliberation of a group of voices.  And, in fact, organizations with higher levels of diversity are far more likely to demonstrate innovation. For example, companies that report high levels of diversity are 45% more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market. Additionally, firms with more ethnic and racial diversity report 2x the innovation revenue.

There are several reasons that this is true.  For one, having diversity in the workplace discourages the formation of groupthink. Groupthink is when everyone in a group gravitates towards a particular idea, because they are influenced by everyone else’s opinion and agreement. It’s difficult to present divergent opinions… particularly when everyone is coming from a similar point of view. When your workforce is diverse, however, it’s more likely that someone in that group will have a differing opinion or invite more dialogue.

Another reason that this is true is likely because of the nature of ideas. They are simply  more powerful when they collide and build on other people’s ideas. Steven Johnson’s “Where Great Ideas Come From” addresses this subject, calling for ideas to connect with unlikely companion ideas, which is when they become more powerful and more disruptive.

But we all know that working for equity and nurturing diversity means a lot more than adopting the value set and putting it on your website. This is because those programs often fail to leverage the hidden power of diversity, equity, and inclusion to enhance innovative thinking. There are a few things that organizations must get right in order to introduce true diversity to their innovative thinking, including:

  • Teach others on the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Select problems that empower people to participate and spot the greatest opportunities to create positive change.
  • Make diversity and inclusion (as well as innovation) a part of every leaders’ job
  • Create a place where those ideas can thrive on equal footing instead of always listening to the highest paid person’s opinion, ideas from the usual suspects, or those who are confident enough to speak up.

If you’re looking to support diversity and innovation, there is an upcoming webinar on the subject on November 19th! Registrants will receive a video recording of the presentation and attendees can participate in a live Q&A. Register today.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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