Diversity has become a watchword in the business world. Businesses often advertise diversity, but when you look under the hood, there may not be much truth in the hype. Through globalization, we see a more encompassing and diverse customer profile and today’s digital disruption alters the way we connect with them. By Camilla Dahlen, Head of ISV, SAP, Forbes, Oct 27, 2016
Diversity simply means variety. In life, and in the workforce, diversity means incorporating a myriad of viewpoints, backgrounds, skills and life experiences. The opportunity lies in unlocking and assembling the unique perspectives across multiple talented and skilled individuals. The more diverse the workforce, the more creative and innovative ideas will be considered to solve problems and drive growth. According to a Forbes Survey, 85% of enterprises agree that diversity results in the most innovative ideas.
The importance of diversity isn’t a new concept. HBR identified and highlighted companies with diversity initiatives in its article How Diversity Can Drive Innovation already in 2013. In this report, it states, “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.”
What has changed now is the rapid pace at which technology and globalization is driving the market towards greater diversity, as well as an expectation for companies to respond faster.
Love diversity, love your company
When I started in my career many years ago, we targeted a handful of market segments and led focus groups to understand how products addressed needs. The process of making sense of the data would take months – and that was acceptable back in the day. In today’s digital world, we have the opportunity to interact directly with our customers through social media, and they are quick to provide immediate feedback. Social media provides us the ability to share ideas and collaborate in near real time – it’s the modern focus group!
The innovation, agility, and productivity needed to address customer demand in real time gets a leap forward when our workforce is composed of unique individuals. People from different backgrounds bring particular viewpoints and drive immediate benefits which translate into many areas, including:
When an issue arises, getting employees together with diverse backgrounds often leads to unique and creative solutions. In the May 2016 issue of the Diversity Journal CEO in Action Awards, Lorna Donatone, CEO of Sodexo, states, “Tapping into the full potential of our employees’ diversity makes us a stronger and more innovative company, better able to serve our clients and 75 million consumers around the world.”
With the economy moving toward globalization, it pays to have a workforce that understands and communicates across national boundaries. According to Diversity Journal, “One of the realities of today’s workplace is the need for cross-cultural understanding in an increasingly global workplace.” Lorna Donatone shares her perspective, “Understanding how workforce demographics and workplace needs are changing provides [companies like] Sodexo with an opportunity to support and leverage multicultural workforce for professional development while meeting business objectives.”
Greater variety translates into employees with language skills and knowledge of cultural practices that can help us build relationships and market share anywhere in the world. And with such talent, we are given the opportunity to expand our thinking.
Creativity and innovation
When everyone you hire has a similar ethnic and cultural background, creativity often falls flat. Bringing in people from diverse backgrounds yields unique insights and the ability to blend cultural norms for a creative approach to development, marketing, deployment, operations and more. Managing partner C. Lash Harrison’s mentioned, during the CEO in Action Awards presentation, that he envisions “that better and more creative solutions come from a group of individuals who are different.”
By understanding and appreciating different cultural backgrounds, you help build a culture of engagement that results in more collaboration and higher productivity. John Wilson, CEO of Wilson HCG noted during the awards presentation, “Collaboration is the key to success and different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences are critical to having a productive and innovative workforce.”
Wilson’s observations can be easily seen in my team too. Because we are structured as a global organization, we can capture ideas from across the globe. We use design thinking as a framework for ideation where we include a variety of roles from inside and outside our partners’ organizations, with the objective of creating meaningful ideas based on a variety of different viewpoints. Our partners appreciate our approach as an inherent way to incorporate diversity into the creation process.
Disruption drives diversity
Diversity goes hand in hand with our goals of co-innovation and digital transformation. The same benefits you reap from better business intelligence and big data also come from building a community of people with diverse and unique backgrounds.
The more diverse the employee pool, the more agile and innovative companies will be. It is critical that companies are representative of all people, regardless of race, gender, age or other human differences as we engage with our customers. Building a corporate culture that enables and encourages diversity helps organizations connect to a broader market, more quickly. And as diversity continues to be addressed at all levels, it becomes easier to identify, attract, and develop top talent.
This post also appeared on SAP Business Trends.