Why Inclusivity Equals Innovation

Tom Loeffert

Technology is bringing the world closer together. It’s giving businesses new ways to connect with customers from all different geographies. It’s giving them access to much wider talent pools. And it’s allowing them to build relationships with suppliers across the globe.

In short, technology is inherently changing the way we work. But it’s not the only thing that’s at play.

Social change is also a powerful influence. As we’ve already seen in our generation, traditional gender roles and cultural barriers are slowly breaking down, a shift which is now being reflected in the workplace. Indeed, more companies are now seeing the value in having inclusive business models.

It’s no wonder. The research for inclusivity makes for a no-brainer business case, for me and many others. Just look at the stats:

  • Companies with diverse management teams have profit margins 12.6% higher than those with homogenous management teams (ISS)
  • Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers (McKinsey)

Diversity is a positive influence on any team. However, it’s no good having a talented, diverse team if they don’t feel valued. This is where inclusivity comes into the equation.

Inclusivity is what makes people feel welcomed and encouraged to voice their opinions. It brings about alternative ways of thinking and fresh perspectives that lead to novel ideas or working structures. What’s more, the mix of insight from varied life backgrounds can help companies satisfy and connect with more customers. Above all, diversity and inclusivity help people bring the best version of themselves to work.

A long way to go

Despite the evidence in favor of diversity and inclusivity, there’s still a lot more to be done in terms of achieving it. A simple look at the management teams of some of the largest companies highlights the uphill battle. For example, based on the 16 Fortune 500 companies that release their full diversity numbers, white men account still account for 72% of senior management roles.

There are a whole host of reasons why inclusivity has been difficult for organizations to achieve. The main reasons relate to the enormous challenge of tackling social norms, and people being unaware of their own bias.

One study that jumped out to me found social diversity as the cause of group discomfort. It could also trigger a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, and less cohesion. The study reasoned that this was because people are naturally drawn to those who look and behave similarly to themselves. But I strongly believe these clashes and difficulties are the very things that foster novel ideas, creative approaches, and fresh perspectives.

There is, however, good news when it comes to tackling the diversity and inclusivity problem. Over the last few years, I’ve seen positive steps from large companies in nurturing inclusion. Many now employ chief diversity officers. They’re also publishing their diversity statistics and committing to positive hiring trends.

Even so, it takes more than an extra role or a few extra processes to make diversity happen. It’s a wider cultural change that requires absolute commitment. Millennials, the most educated, diverse, connected, and worldly generation yet, expect companies to reflect the world in which they live.  It is a talent attraction that is imperative and vital for business innovation.

Embracing workplace inclusivity: the next steps

Remember, you don’t need to invest millions to create inclusivity. You just need to make sure the message permeates throughout your organization in a way that is memorable and ensures that your organization provides support at all levels.

This can be done in a number of ways. Emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusivity at all points of the employee journey – from recruitment and onboarding to reviews and training – can help remind people to always think about how they can behave with less bias.

Likewise, I believe hiring managers may need to offer jobs to people who they don’t immediately get along with. It goes against the usual practice of hiring for a “cultural fit,” but it’s an important step in ensuring diversity. To get this started, it’s a good idea to send hiring managers to networking events that target people from underrepresented groups. Corporate sponsorship of such events is also a positive step toward helping these organizations flourish.

Spreading the responsibility for diversity beyond the top management team will also help. Unconscious bias training can ensure team leaders are always prepared for open discussions about inclusivity. Goals should also be set regarding diversity and be made a part of performance reviews.

Personally, my mission is to make sure everyone in the business world understands that inclusivity is more than just a metric. It’s a mindset that needs to be encouraged and actively applied to all facets of the work environment. That’s why I’m proud to be on the advisory board of Generation Success, a not-for-profit organization that’s dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within enterprises. It’s a mission I believe in, not only on a social level but a practical one as well. I see it as a chance for our employees to mentor and engage with the wider community, and an opportunity to build a talent pipeline.

Whatever strategy your organization opts for, continuous feedback is vital, as is updating processes to ensure such measures work. Because despite the progress that’s been made, there’s always more that can be done.

For more on this topic, see How Left-Handed People Hold Phones, And Why It Matters To Your Business.

Tom Loeffert

About Tom Loeffert

Tom Loeffert is the Director of HR (United Kingdom) at SAP.