Diversity is more than a buzz word or an ESG consideration; it's a pivotal component of workplaces where collaboration and innovation thrive.
Study after study shows diversity is linked to productivity and profit. These innovations are possible thanks to the variety of experiences, expertise, and perspective that comes along with having a diverse workforce.
Read on for more about how diversity can drive innovation.
Understand the ideas behind diversity and innovation
Before we outline how diversity can drive innovation, let's take a step back and define our terms. First, diversity is more than ethnicity or race. The concept of diversity also encompasses expertise, education, generation and/or age, and sexual orientation, to name a few. Harvard Business Review goes a step further by distinguishing between inherent and acquired diversity, defining inherent diversity as "traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation" and acquired diversity as "traits you gain from experience."
As for innovation, this word inherently entails change. To innovate means to "do something in a new way," per Merriam-Webster. If your organization or business wants to move past the status quo and set itself apart, diversity should be a starting strategy. Ahead, we'll outline the how and the why.
Uncover how diversity can drive innovation
Multiple studies have shown the connection between diversity and innovation, from "How diversity can drive innovation" from Harvard Business Review to Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and Company, and the Small Business Economics journal.
"New research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth—a finding that should intensify efforts to ensure that executive ranks both embody and embrace the power of differences," reports Harvard Business Review. Researchers found that companies with two-dimensional diversity (exhibiting both inherent and acquired diversity) "out-innovate and out-perform others."
"Employees at these companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market," wrote HBR. "2-D diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where 'outside the box' ideas are heard."
In all, diverse teams are better equipped to understand end users and meet needs in under-leveraged markets.
Examples of how diversity can drive innovation
Research and data show a connection between diversity and innovation. But what does that actually look like? Ahead, we'll look at three examples of just how diversity can drive innovation.
Diversity and innovation in medicine
Research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America analyzing 6.6 million published papers from more than 15,000 medical journals around the world found that gender-diverse teams "produce more novel and higher-impact scientific ideas." Furthermore, these gender-diverse teams are more likely to publish "more highly cited papers than same-gender teams."
And this type of collaboration on diverse teams isn't contained to the field of medicine. Organizations and systems from boardrooms to supply chains can benefit greatly from incorporating diversity into their DNA.
Diversity and innovation in web development
A diverse workforce or team can more easily overcome the unconscious biases we all experience in some form. "Bias is a challenge that applies to all technology," writes Jennine Loisel, an SVP of Engineering, for The Enterprisers Project. "If a specific class of people – whether it’s white men, Asian women, LGBTQ+ people, or other – is solely responsible for developing a technology or a solution, they will likely build to their own experiences. But what if that technology is meant for a broader population? Certainly, people who have not been historically under-represented in technology are also important, but the intersection of perspectives is critical."
Loisel recounts an instance working with a diverse group of developers to create a website. At first, the team was proud of the work they'd done. But thanks to the perspective of a colleague with low vision, they learned the product was ultimately not accessible for some users. Thanks to the input of this colleague, they turned out a product that was both accessible and inclusive. In this case, having a diverse team meant not missing out on an essential design element.
Unconscious biases can crop up from multiple vantage points, no matter what sector we're in or the role we have. For example, there are accessibility, generational, and cultural considerations to be made that can ultimately result in a more innovative and inclusive product or service.
Diversity and innovation in artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is gaining undeniable traction, from the early days of Siri and Amazon's Alexa to more sophisticated tools like ChatGPT and Bing AI. As Angle Bush, founder of Black Women in A.I. says, diversity is crucial to responsible and inclusive AI development and innovation. Without diversity in its creation, artificial intelligence becomes "a system of unconscious bias when you don't have diversity, when you don't have people in the room to say, well, let's step back on this data, because what's happening is people are using historical data to solve current problems," according to Bush. "The historical data doesn't necessarily represent what's happening in the world right now. Where are you getting this data from? Have you cleaned the data? Have you looked at the data to see if it reflects current trends? Was there diversity when you first collected the data, or is this based on your own bias?"
Given how ingrained artificial intelligence is becoming in our society, the stakes are only getting higher. For example, in 2020, Robert Williams was wrongfully arrested in his driveway and held in jail overnight. During questioning, Williams was shown a photo of the suspect. Only, it wasn't him. But "the computer says it's you," the police officer told him. Since then, two more instances of false arrests due to faulty artificial intelligence have come to light, all involving Black men.
And this is just one story. We need diversity to create innovative, ethical, and inclusive AI.
Unlock how diversity can drive innovation for yourself
Our mission at AboveBoard is to champion diversity in the C-suite and the boardroom. We believe that in doing so, we'll be contributing to inclusive innovation and equitable decision making from society's top leaders. Ready to see how diversity can drive innovation at your organization? Join AboveBoard's inclusive executive search platform today for connectivity to high caliber, underrepresented executives and board room leaders.