The Intersection of Diversity and Innovation – What’s Your Story?

June 4, 2014

I recently attended the Diversity Inc. Innovation Fest 2012, which included company presentations on diversity and inclusion programs that emphasize innovative practices. As I begin to delve into this issue area I wanted to understand what companies are doing in this space and why.

What I came to realize is that diversity and inclusion means different things to different companies, it is by no means a one size fits all type program.

As I talked with participants I realized that it is one thing to have a diverse workforce, but it’s a whole other ball game when it comes to making sure the different groups are inclusive and feel comfortable in their work environments.This is where the importance of employee resource groups (ERG) comes into play. I quickly became familiar with this acronym as I learned about the various ERG’s within a company: women, African American, Hispanic, Asian, LGBT, non-drinkers, millennials, etc. One large technology company had 11 different ERGs!

Going into the meeting I understood the importance to have a diverse workforce but I was more interested in the intersection with diversity and innovation. How has the diverse workforce helped the company innovate its products or services? How is this being tracked? Here are two particular examples that stood out to me from the event:

BASF: Talent Diversity Dashboard

Through the talent diversity dashboard, BASF collects data to understand the diversity of its employees, their movement within the organization, and their value add to the company. The data collected lets them look at the depth and breadth of BASF talent. The dashboard is managed by division leaders making them accountable for their workforce diversity. The results from the dashboard provides a deep look at the talents base, asses how each department is moving the needle on the issue, is transparent, and helps with organizational planning

AT&T: The Innovation Pipeline

Through an internal system, AT&T employees are encouraged to submit and comment on product and service innovation. This crowdsourced website is a portal for AT&T to look for innovative ideas that receive the most hits and puts them through the product development phase at the company. AT&T Drive Mode is an idea that began through the innovation pipeline that is now available to consumers.

Product and service marketing is changing in nature as technology changes and the way that consumers receive and digest information. Additionally, the rise in consumer buying power in emerging markets such as India, China, and Brazil requires companies to cater their products to specific market needs. With this consumer behavior change and new market developments, companies must innovate the products they are producing to meet needs and the way they are pushing out their messaging. In order to do so it is important to have a workforce that understands those needs.

As I continue to explore this issue I would like to hear from you – how is your company using its diverse workforce to innovate?