Hot Topic: Diversity, Inclusiveness and Innovation

Over the last ten years, firms have started looking at workforce diversity as a genuine business objective rather than solely for PR purposes. For the professional services industry, the need for a gender diverse and multicultural workforce is even important as external business benefits arise when firms better represent the world around them. Most firms are currently looking towards emerging countries for growth and see hiring multilingual and multi-cultural consultants as an asset to address services appropriately and sensitively to new markets.
Last year was marked by the publication of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’ which was instrumental in re-launching the debate about flexible working and how firms need to establish a culture which enables women to ‘make it to the top’. Similarly, one may wonder what changes we have made to our corporate cultures and processes to integrate those who are not ‘White British’. While most firms have made an effort to recruit more diverse staff, not many have attempted to transform their cultures or processes as a consequence.
Unlocking the innovation potential of having a diverse workforce
One of the most highly praised internal benefits of having a diverse workforce is innovation. Most firms recognise that having people from different backgrounds (gender, ethnicity, culture, generation, or sexual orientation) enables creativity, innovation and problem solving. But we are yet to fully unlock the innovation potential that the diversity advantage gives us Are we giving them the buy-in, sponsorship and endorsement of decision-makers to take their ideas to market? Unfortunately, studies have shown [1] that ideas from women, BMEs, non-British nationals, LGBTs, and Gen-Ys are less likely to win the endorsement they need to go forward because most leaders don’t value ideas they don’t personally see a need for (a veritable chokehold when an organisation’s leaders are predominantly Caucasian, male, and heterosexual, and come from similar educational and socioeconomic backgrounds).  Indeed, an overwhelming majority (84%) of business executives say that their organisation’s ability to develop and manage teams will be essential for future competitiveness, according to a global survey.[2]
Working on the ‘I’ of D&I        
Inclusive leaders dramatically improve the likelihood of innovation by significantly improving the likelihood that each member will speak up and be heard. In today’s business environment, leaders need to be inclusive in order to integrate diverse perspectives to create high-performing, global teams that drive growth for their organisations.  However, most organisations are still on a journey. Organisations are realising that they must develop the relevant leadership skills in all their people to help transform the diversity of their global organisations into a competitive advantage. They understand that if they want to lead in the market they must develop their leaders to believe that difference matters. Whether it is through training, living abroad or having open and sincere conversations with colleagues, leaders can learn to be more inclusive.  We call this 'acquired inclusiveness'. Leaders need to learn how to leverage the diversity of their teams to tackle problems, and draw on their worldwide experience to create effective solutions that are directly relevant to their clients
There is a critical business need to get this right

Studies have shown a robust correlation between highly innovative, diverse companies and market growth.[3] Moreover, innovation is absolutely critical in some industries where technology advances and globalisation forces businesses to reinvent themselves.  And isn’t it critical for us, young consultants, to foster innovation to re-create our business model, when clients finally decide they might not want to pay for our day rated advice?

Note: Views are expressed here are my own.        
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[1] Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Princeton University Press, 2007
[2] Global EY survey
[3] Sylvia Hewlett and co, Innovation, Diversity and Market Growth, Center for Talent Innovation, 2013