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24 Feb. 2012 | Comments (0)

In the Summer 2010 Conference Board Review, Alison Maitland writes, “A snail could crawl from Land’s End at the southwest tip of England to John o’Groats in the far north of Scotland and halfway back again in the seventy-three years it would take […] to achieve gender parity on the boards of Britain’s largest one hundred companies.” In countries across the world, similar data draw a stark picture of the pace of inclusion across all sectors, organizational levels, and diversity dimensions. 

We do not have to settle for a snail’s pace.  Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) innovators are well-positioned to accelerate increasingly significant, meaningful, and sustainable results.  Innovative D&I strategies are needed to achieve a rich and relevant mix of diversity from entry level to board level in our lifetime.  New D&I practices are needed to make the most of that diverse mix to achieve individual, organizational, and societal goals for this generation.  Notably, we can make the most of the interplay between diversity and innovation to transform our D&I approaches and impacts. 

Where does innovation come from?  Some conditions for innovation are addressed in The Medici Effect where Frans Johansson discusses how we can achieve breakthrough innovations at the diverse “intersection of cultures, disciplines, and fields.”  We have already begun to expand both real and perceived value of D&I by drawing on diversity to create profitable product and service innovations.  For example, consider Speedo’s success when they mixed diverse perspectives from NASA with those from ANSYS engineering simulation, athletes, and fashion designers to innovate the LZR Racer swimsuit with rare qualities and exceptional performance.  Within one week of its introduction, three LZR-clad swimmers set new world records. 

What would happen if we extended the Medici Effect to drive innovation not only from diversity but also for diversity? By bringing together different perspectives and ways of working, we can combine diverse concepts into extraordinary new ideas for D&I work.  We can make the most of a mix of different specialties, viewpoints, and heuristics to provide breakthrough methods to overcome persistent barriers to achieving D&I results. 

Currently, such barriers frustrate organizations that have spent substantial time and money on D&I but find progress falling short of the promise of diversity.  Discontent multiplies when talent is subdued by systemic barriers and unconscious biases that block full potential.  It multiplies further when individuals are distracted, disengaged and disheartened by the need to hide their true selves in a precarious attempt fit in with the prevailing mainstream.  

With the potential of the interplay between diversity and innovation to mitigate such stubborn roadblocks, D&I has never been a more compelling field.  We have the opportunity to look back at how this discipline has grown and evolved since its inception, to celebrate our collective progress, to apply the lessons we have learned, and to take forward the best of what has worked.  At the same time, we have the opportunity to let go of practices that have not garnered the results we need.  Although we have earned the privilege to be pleased with our hard-won results to date, we need to ask ourselves if continuing with current “best practices” will escalate the extraordinary results we need to achieve in the short and long term. 

Radical innovations in D&I are necessary to expedite positive outcomes at the macro level of society, mezzo level of organizations, and micro level of lived experiences of individuals.  Making the most of diversity to drive innovations in D&I can replace the snail pace with high-speed rail pace.

  • 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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