Diversity Meets Innovation

November 28, 2012 by Bill Bradley


Title:  Diversity Can Mean Big Money

Competencies: visionary leadership, diversity

Who benefits: organizations, people who work in organizations

Consultant Usage: those interested in the merger of diversity and innovation issues/concepts/ideas

What’s it about? In the legal profession there is something called a “stipulation”.  It is something all parties agree to without further discussion.  When we discuss “diversity in the workplace” let us stipulate that it is a moral and ethical business practice.  But is that enough?

Recently a light came on in my head – okay, for you research purists it was a dim, 40 watt bulb, but nevertheless it was an idea!  Where does Diversity meet up with Economics?  It’s the old “Show Me The Money” thing.

This link in my head began with an interesting read from blogger Sylvia Ann Hewlett: “Too Many People of Color Feel Uncomfortable at Work”.  There is inclusion in the company but exclusion from the culture.  Or as she quotes author Andrés Tapia (The Inclusion Paradox) “Companies have been good at creating a workforce that looks different, (but) they’ve fallen short when it comes to understanding how to develop a corporate culture where all employees feel included, respected, comfortable, and able to do their best work.”

In fairness to you readers, while I believe the content is accurate and important, the article is a bit self-serving with almost all the information coming from her own organization’s internal research but not properly credited.

That being stated, there are some important points to consider.  I found myself wondering about my own past behaviors as a manager.  I think I was always considered a diversity friendly manager; but I wonder in retrospect how much “coaching to culture” I did.  Was I only concerned with getting the employee to fit into the corporate culture?  Did I properly consider the needs of the employee?  I may never know, but I wish I had read this article many years ago.  Read the article and see if there are similar questions you can ask yourself.

I somewhat randomly moved on to another interesting article: “When Success is Born Out of Serendipity”.  The author is Frans Johansson, author of the popular and widely read The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation.  The book emphasizes that great ideas and innovations often take place at the borders or boundaries of fields of knowledge.  Hey, post-its were invented by some guy in a church choir who was tired of his notes (no pun intended) slipping off the stand.

In the case of Johansson, his corporate success came about when his then fiancée (now, he proudly proclaims, his wife) pointed out that his book on innovation was at the economic boundary of diversity.  He marketed his book to corporate diversity officers and pointed out the road to economic success.  Diversity officers took his ideas to CEOs and Johansson was crowned a guru.  Diversity increases innovation.  Innovation leads to money.  Big Money.  Now the people at the top (still mostly white guys) have a big reason to rethink the ideas in Hewett’s article.  Maybe $$$ will help organizations “get it.”  Make everyone feel welcome and essential to the organization.  Diversity =s Dollars.

I rather enjoyed reading these two very “diverse” articles and noting how they connected at the borders.  Hope you enjoy them too. And if by chance you would like more from Johansson, he has a just published book: The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World.

Catch you later.

Bill Bradley (mostly) retired after 35 years in organizational consulting, training and management development. During those years he worked internally with seven organizations and trained and consulted externally with more than 90 large and small businesses, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development

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