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01 Oct. 2014 | Comments (0)

Join Senior Fellow, Human Capital, Rebekah Steele during our Breakthrough Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Lab from November 4-5th, 2014 at TCB New York City headquarters as she facilitates an important discussion on how practitioners can increase innovation through  better D&I practices.


As organizations seek new avenues for growth amidst dynamic economic, demographic, technological and social change, both innovation and Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) are essential. Even more, D&I and innovation can be reciprocally interdependent when each is used to catalyze better outcomes in the other. Those improved outcomes at the intersection of innovation and D&I can help businesses grow.

Leveraging D&I for Innovation                     

In her article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, recently published in Scientific American, Katherine Phillips reports:

“Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.”

Homogenous groups, Phillips goes on to explain, are less innovative than groups with diverse expertise and social diversity (including dimensions such as sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and gender). New information from those with different experiences and perspectives explains part of the effect. “Simply interacting with individuals who are different,” Phillips continues, “forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.”

This argument aligns with assertions put forth by others, including Scott Page (The Difference), Keith Sawyer (Group Genius), and Frans Johansson (Medici Effect). More specifically, these authors have highlighted how cognitive diversity and collaborative interactions across an array of different cultures, perspectives, experiences, and training can fuel creativity. As Sawyer explained, diversity makes groups more creative because the friction resulting from the mix of a variety of perspectives can propel the group to generate novel outcomes. Connections among different individuals can enable “collaborative emergence,” he continues, enabling “multiple sparks” of innovation.

Through these tensions and insights, diversity can set the stage for the innovative solutions business leaders and their customers are seeking. However, to enable these opportunities and outperform competitors, companies must actively cultivate an inclusive ecosystem providing the context for diversity and innovation to flourish.

Leveraging Innovation for D&I

As evident in these discussions and the research behind them, organizations are exploring ways to leverage D&I for groundbreaking innovations in products, services, processes, and solutions for profitable business growth. However, less attention has been paid to the inverse relationship: how breakthrough innovations can transform the practice of D&I in ways accelerating relevant, meaningful, and lasting results. This consideration is critical. For D&I to truly deliver on the promise of innovation and other competitive advantages, we must ensure that our strategies for engaging and making the most of a broad mix of talent are sound. Simply, we must ensure that we are able to effectively bring together the diversity of minds important to enabling those sparks of insight that create new value.

Since the inception of the field of Diversity, organizations have made incremental progress in building more diverse workforces and ensuring that businesses are benefiting from a range of perspectives and experiences. However, many companies have not fully resolved D&I challenges or completely realized D&I opportunities. How many times have we heard that progress in D&I is stagnant, that D&I change takes a long time, or that D&I efforts are stuck and not moving the needle?

Because today’s best practices are not delivering expected results, we need to approach D&I differently. Furthermore, if we want to create the conditions important to propelling innovative business solutions in our organizations, we need to generate fresh ways of working in D&I. That requires us to explore and design new D&I practices. It demands that we pursue innovative D&I strategies.

Taking Action

How are progressive leaders making the most of the dynamic interplay between D&I and innovation? In my next post, I will share a specific opportunity to explore how innovation and inclusion help each other and, in turn, help businesses succeed.


View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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