Driving Innovation: Take the Lead with Workplace Diversity

The highest levels of employee driven innovation occur among diverse work forces. The business world is quickly catching on to the fact that a diverse workforce will best serve diverse consumer groups. Keep reading to learn why diversity drives innovation and why it benefits companies.

What is Diversity?
When most people think of diversity, they tend to think of common categories, such as race, gender and disability. However, these are all inherent types of diversity and do not account for acquired diversity traits, which come from first-hand knowledge and personal experience. For example, living abroad and acculturating to another country’s beliefs, traditions and language. On the other hand, working with a previously unfamiliar demographic group, such as immigrants or religious volunteers, will increase acquired diversity. The ideal employee will have both inherent and acquired diversity traits. While many people still only consider inherent diversity traits to be important, business leaders should equally value both types of diversity. Otherwise, this may result in certain employees feeling that their inherent diversity traits are better than the acquired diversity traits of their coworkers.

The Benefits of Acquired Diversity
The Harvard Business Review reports that researchers have found that acquired diversity has key benefits for companies. For example, it ensures that everyone is valued and provided with an opportunity to share their opinion. Because of this, employees feel comfortable with proposing unusual or non-traditional ideas. When management empowers team members to make decisions, they will naturally work together to collectively agree upon the best path. As a result, team members are more willing to share credit for both success and failure. In order to fully reap the benefits of acquired diversity, management should continually provide constructive feedback with actionable goals to their team. Consequently, they should encourage feedback from the team. All of this will increase accountability and transparency. Leaders who establish a culture that embraces diversity will reveal innovative ideas and solutions.

How Diversity Drives Innovation
People see problems and solutions from very different perspectives. Sometimes, these perspectives are in complete contrast to widely accepted views. However, having a talented group of diverse employees will result in the opportunity to elicit more ideas that can be used to solve problems or create new products or services. For example, cognitive psychology teaches that people use heuristics, or mental models, to process and analyze information and their environment. However, cross-culture psychologists note that Asian people tend to holistically view the world from a collective social lens. On the other hand, Western people tend to analytically view the world in a Gestalt fashion by breaking down things into patterns or categories. Consequently, a diverse workforce from these cultures will be able to provide integrated solutions that combine the best of both world views.

Diversity is one of the primary drivers of innovation. Diverse teams will be able to provide distinct views and ideas that can either solve difficult problems or identify new opportunities. A diverse group of employees will better represent and understand their diverse consumers.