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Collaboration and knowledge sharing is key to achieving diversity and inclusion.

Boosting innovation through diversity and inclusion.

Will tomorrow’s global innovations come from doing things the same as we did today? Talking to the same people? Re- hashing the same ideas?

In these rapidly changing and unpredictable times, it’s now more crucial than ever that businesses are agile enough to adapt to new social and economic trends. One thing’s for certain – ‘business as usual’ is a thing of the past. How do organisations not only weather the uncertain market conditions, but thrive in them? The answer could be through your people.

Organisations whose teams best reflect society are better able to understand and connect with the current opportunities of the wider world. On a basic level, if the collective life experiences of your employee base are representative of that of your customer base your business will be better placed to understand the needs and behaviours of that customer base and adapt products and services accordingly. Korn Ferry’s 2015 research showed that if a company reflected their customer base they were 158% more likely to innovate than those that didn’t.  And what about future business? Those potential customers or partners out there who you find it difficult to engage? Do we even know what opportunities lie ahead? 

In thinking about your employees as a community of individuals each with unique experiences that shape their connections to the world, we are better able to draw insight from the ‘outside in’.  

Perhaps we can unlock new ideas, new ways of working, access previously undiscovered markets? The more inclusive we are as an organisation, the more we attract and are open to difference. Inclusion not only brings in people from different backgrounds, be that socio-economic, nationality, life experience, gender, sexual orientation, age – but also draws out  and fosters this ‘difference’ in the existing team. The greater the breadth of life experience, styles and connections to the world, the richer the collaboration. The richer the collaboration, the better the innovation.

The key is to promote diversity of thought, diversity of experience and background and celebrate personal authenticity.

‘GroupThink’ caused by hiring in our own likeness, or only rewarding certain behaviours or working styles, will only serve to shackle organisations to the past - apathetic, ‘tried and tested’ ways of working preventing ‘big leap’ innovations.  

After all, the successful businesses of the future are hiring for ‘cultural difference’, not ‘cultural fit’

Five steps for Leaders - focusing on the innovation power of an inclusion culture:

1.    Encourage authenticity and ‘differentness’ - be wary of ‘group think’ and ‘corporate copycatting’. New and different ideas come from celebrating the difference in your people. Stereotype and pigeon-hole at your peril!

2.    Role-model an inclusive meeting style. Encourage a collaborative, inclusive style in meetings where everyone gets a say rather than a handful of people dominating precious airtime. The quietest person in the room is often the wisest.

3.    Mix it up. Time for a team night out? Go somewhere entirely new and different, the team will be energized by a new environment, perhaps one pushing the comfort zones of some, while encouraging others to be themselves. Give it a try, switch out the trusty local pub or restaurant for a cooking lesson, a play, a science talk, a recording studio!

4.    Best idea Forums. Why not encourage your teams to suggest new ideas for products, services or system changes based on their own personal experience outside of the workplace? A sports bag for vegans? An app that tells you the temperature of train carriages? Encouraging innovation is its own reward as teams learn to build confidence in making connections with the world around them. Listen and encourage debate, don’t shoot down ideas because they haven’t worked in the past. They could be perfect for the future.

5.    2D to 3D Diversity. Instead of thinking in two dimensions about diversity of your employees – open your mind up to the 3D. Think about the skills born of life experiences and unique personal outlooks they possess, rather than their physical characteristics alone. Diversity isn’t just what we look like, who we love or where we were born, but how our collective experiences and perspectives connect us to the world around us.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charlotte Butler

With over 15 years’ experience in employee communication, community building and HR consultancy, Charlotte Butler set up Altogether Different in 2016 to help workplaces become more diverse and inclusive. More inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, age, caring responsibilities, under-represented racial groups and physical ability.

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