If innovation is the powerhouse of progress, diversity is its catalyst. Research consistently shows that diverse teams achieve higher levels of innovation and overall performance.
A 2021 study conducted by BCG Henderson Institute revealed that companies exhibit innovation because of their diversity. Gartner research found that in a diverse workforce, performance increases by 12% and intent to stay by 20%.
This underscores that diversity goes beyond just representation; it serves as a strategic advantage. It enables organizations to tackle critical challenges and plays a pivotal role in overcoming innovation bottlenecks and resistance to change.
Let’s look at how diverse teams act as dynamic hubs of innovation and engines of change:
Diversity Sparks Creativity
Unlocking varied perspectives to brew unconventional ideas.
When people with diverse backgrounds and experiences are grouped together, they draw inspiration from seemingly unrelated ideas, disciplines or experiences. Different perspectives, when collated, foster innovation by challenging norms and promoting fresh ideas.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is known for its unique flavors, and the company’s diverse team of ‘Flavor Gurus’ plays a crucial role in creating the wide variety of flavors you see in your local grocery store. The team experiments with unconventional ingredients and combinations, leading to flavors like ‘Phish Food’ and ‘Cherry Garcia.’
Challenging groupthink and preventing tunnel vision.
Diverse teams are far better than homogenous ones as they bring cognitive richness to the table. Even though so much variance in thought may stretch teams in uncomfortable ways, it leads to a convergence of perspectives, backgrounds, ideas, and game-changing decisions.
In 2016, following decades of tunnel vision, Mattel introduced new Barbie dolls that feature diverse body types, skin tones and hairstyles. The company collaborated with a team of diverse designers, including those with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, body shapes, and gender identities. The result? Dolls that continued to serve as positive role models and demonstrate that ‘You Can Be Anything,’ while more accurately reflecting the diversity we see in the real world.
Cultural Competence & Global Perspective
Breezing through complex transformations.
When there is diversity in the team, employees learn from each other, more effectively navigate diverse markets and build culturally informed relationships. They don’t just evolve new ideas; they make their execution a great success through well-thought-out pathways.
Airbnb’s success is rooted in its ability to maneuver through the intricacies of diverse cultures, legal frameworks and global hospitality expectations. With a diverse team attuned to cultural nuances, Airbnb has customized its platform to cater to users’ unique needs and preferences across different regions. This includes adapting marketing strategies, user experiences and customer support to be culturally sensitive and relevant.
Organizations that succeed in managing change and devising innovative strategies, whether in M&As, technology implementation or product development, are typically those with an inclusive, accepting, diverse and supportive company culture. They are better able to respond and adapt to changing environments because they rely on their workforce to lead the change, rather than a few people at the top. More representation from diverse groups directly translates into more visibility of the constantly moving chunk-sized changes at the ground level that eventually add up to the whole picture. Through an environment of continuous creativity and innovation, made possible by diverse and inclusive teams, companies are granted the elasticity needed to thrive in a world of rapid change.
As someone who comes from a core HR ops background, I understand the pivotal role that a diverse and inclusive culture plays in shaping the success or failure of change initiatives. Leaders who emphasize hiring only people who ‘fit’ the company’s culture risk creating an organization of like-minded people who have a very rigid approach toward change. In an effort to hire individuals who would complement the existing team, organizations often unintentionally end up recruiting individuals who duplicate the skillsets and perspectives already represented within their teams.
Growth happens when individuals are compelled to consider other perspectives and invest more effort in presenting their ideas to a group of cognitively diverse individuals. At the end of the day, innovation revolves around people – around the transformative ideas that emerge when diverse and inclusive teams collaborate.
In my transition from an HR generalist role to consulting, I witnessed this dynamic firsthand. I am compelled to think from the perspective of the client while at the same time drawing from my own experiences to develop strategies for effective change management. Each client has their own unique needs and teams with their own perspectives. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t cut it.