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Why Diversity Is Necessary For Innovation At the Workplace Great products and solutions are born at the intersection of ideas, experiences and challenges. In an increasingly technology enabled world, close knit and productive teams will provide the technology answers to challenges of the future.

By Shrikant Vaze

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Malcolm Forbes famously defined diversity as the art of thinking independently, together. There is a certain poignancy to that statement which seems simplistic in nature but holds far greater contextual meaning within. In 2020, diversity at the workplace has become a norm rather than an aspiration to work towards.

The Pursuit of Diversity

There have been numerous studies and research that classify diversity as indispensable for growth stage companies and global organizations alike. For example, McKinsey found in 2015 that public companies with a broader range of ethnic and racial diversity within their ranks were 35 per cent more likely to post better revenue numbers than companies that were more straight-jacketed in their hiring policy.

A little more sobering is the "Fixing the Flawed Approach to Diversity' BCG report published in 2019. The study considers opinions of about 16,500 people across eight countries including India, spread across various diversity groups commonplace in today's corporate roster. Here's the diversity conundrum – of the 97 per cent folks polled who recognize that their organization deploys a diversity policy, only 25 per cent have actually benefited from it personally.

Furthermore, the report also states that it is the senior (age and position) sub-group that is identified as being the most out of sync with the challenges that diversity groups face every day at work. The numbers seem to imply there is a gap between intent and action.

Propelling Diversity in 2020

Today, access to information and channels to air opinions are plenty and it has become an ingrained part of social life to be opinionated and support a certain cause or ideology. Diversity really unlocks the potential of a certain group of people not when they agree but when disagreement and difference of opinion actually leads to a better answer. It is through the exchange of opinion, even though occasionally it might lead to rifts, that we can fuse together experiences and cumulative knowledge for better ideas and a better way to approach challenges.

Organizations today have to deal with sub-groups based on political affinity, policy making and governance as well as preferences in pop culture. The key is to understanding that with every precious resource one hires, there is a deep-rooted personality and preference palette that comes with the individual. Rather than control, channel or suppress it in anyway, organizations should create accommodating sandboxes for employees to be able to feel comfortable and within their natural habitat so that they can focus on the most important aspects of their work. This is easier said than done.

Detours to Diversity

It is important to stem the prevalence of bias at the workplace for diversity to flourish and grow. There are strong numbers to suggest that employees who experience or witness bias, are likely to have their productivity and engagement at work negatively altered. Organizations can lean on a three pronged approach to promoting diversity at the workplace by

- Drafting strong policies to encourage more multiplicity within ranks

- Removing bias potential from hiring to appraisal stage

- Instituting training programs to help all employees become better equipped to work in a diverse workplace

Organizations who take a stand on social and professional issues pertaining to diversity are seen in a positive light compared to their counterparts who try to subvert issues. This characteristic is usually driven from the leadership to mid and lower hierarchies.

Diversity In the Time of the Millennial

Innovation through diversity has many examples. If the Medici family had not encouraged artists of different milieu in Europe centuries ago, the Renaissance movement would have been fiction. Look at the hottest epicenters of creativity and innovation today – Singapore, Dubai, London, Sydney – all boast of a distinct melting pot culture which brings people from different walks of life together.

By 2025, millennials will constitute the majority of workers at most organizations. Understanding millennial culture and adapting organizational culture accordingly will be top priority skill for the progressive leaders of tomorrow. To be able to attract and retain the best talent the company has to create an environment that encourages free speech, provides equal opportunity to grow and breathes inclusion with every breath. Contrasting views lead to conflicts but they are needed to create an environment conducive to innovation.

Great products and solutions are born at the intersection of ideas, experiences and challenges. In an increasingly technology enabled world, close knit and productive teams will provide the technology answers to challenges of the future. If necessity is the mother of invention, then diversity can at least make a claim of surrogacy over innovation and creativity.

Shrikant Vaze

CEO, Asia/ India/ Costa Rica – Cluster, Fujitsu Global Delivery Centers

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