Innovations will not be discovered, developed and scaled by groups of like-minded people of similar background. Solutions will demand diversity and inclusion leapfrogs. Leaders will have to take a fresh look at how they:
- Define what diversity means for their organization, redesigning processes and metrics to manage progress,
- Act and engage personally to create a more inclusive culture, with clear incentives to motivate change, and
- See and leverage the linkages between a diverse and inclusive culture and innovation.
Too many conversations about innovation prioritize technology as the major driver. Technology is one element of the complex innovation execution puzzle. Technology is abundant. Diversity (of thought and perspective, not simply gender and racial representation) and inclusion )the culture and environment where all members feel respected, valued and heard) are core to building and sustaining an effective innovation pipeline. Diversity and inclusion must be created and nurtured organically.
Diversity Must Be Broadly Defined, Sought and Measured
Reality is that while increasing gender and racial representation are essential, these are insufficient drivers of diversity. A gender and racially diverse organization will not be assured of innovation success. Also required in the composite profile: diverse life experiences and education backgrounds, and people who bring different perspectives and knowledge to problem-solving. An organization embracing this definition is set up to make brisk headway on innovation priorities.
Executives Must Personally Engage
Korn Ferry has identified five qualities of the inclusive leader. They:
1. Are open and aware, and able to adapt their behaviors to the needs of others
2. Advocate for diversity
3. Create a psychologically safe environment
4. Leverage differences, seeing difference as a source of greater insight
5. Drive results by fostering a diverse and inclusive environment
What else is required to build an inclusive culture? Especially for cultures in transition, being inclusive means rooting out and showing zero tolerance for exclusionary behaviors and rewarding inclusive behaviors that support the target culture. It means, for many organizations, innovating how diversity and inclusion efforts are designed and led.
See also: The New Shape of Innovation
Recognize the Linkages Between Diversity and Inclusion, and Innovation
It is unlikely any of us can name a CEO who will say he or she is not customer-centric. But many organizations fall short. Why? Only organizations that are diverse and inclusive can maximize their abilities to:
- Understand customers as human beings
- Develop empathy to build enduring and mutually valuable relationships
- Anticipate customer needs with speed and depth of insight
- Address diversity risks, e.g., the loss of mid-career women with children or aging parents, emerging as a consequence of the pandemic.
We all see the severity of the challenges arising this year, many of them with long-tail effects. As leaders, innovators and change makers, it is up to all of us to advance diversity and inclusion in whatever organizations we lead or influence. It's the morally right thing to do, and it's the only commercially smart answer.