Diversity Leads To Innovation

by Sandy L on October 26, 2010

I absolutely loved yesterday’s monkey writing experiment and I just wanted to write a quick note about my observations from the day.  First of all, I want to thank the 7 other bloggers that wrote fantastic articles.  Each article was utterly unique and very enjoyable to read.  No 2 stories were alike and I find this observation a great example for today’s post.

I used to be one of the hub leaders of the women’s network at my company, so I have gotten involved on the topic before.

For those of you who read the monkey carnival, it was the perfect example of how diversity can lead to more ideas.  The bloggers who wrote the articles came from different walks of life. This meant they had different experiences to build ideas off of, but also had unique observations on those experiences. For example, two people visiting a gorilla at a zoo can walk away with 2 totally different impressions of it.

Now, if I’m at a company trying to form a team to solve a big problem or innovate the next product, you better believe that I want as diverse a team as possible.  Here are the benefits as I see them:

  1. More diversity = more ideas = more potential solutions.
  2. Many companies are global and it’s important to understand the different cultural impacts of decisions.
  3. People feel more empowered in a diverse workplace. As an employee, you’re more likely to feel like you’re opinion is important regardless of your race, color, gender, age, political, religion, or sexual orientation.
  4. Some studies have shown lower turnover and absenteeism rates.
  5. You’re less likely to be sued for discrimination.
  6. You are more likely to qualify for government contracts.

I’m sure I’m missing some, and please chime in on the ones that I have omitted. Now, I can see some folks reading this and saying, hiring a diverse candidate just for the sake of diversity is wrong. You should hire the best candidate for the job.  To this point, I agree, but all things being equal, I do think that a diverse person (relative to your organizational landscape) will bring a unique perspective to the role and that’s worth something.

You know, I once heard a story that way back in the model T days, Ford had a university degree type training program for engineers (sorry I can’t find the reference, so I’m not 100% positive of this). To make a long story short, they were pumping out engineers who all had the same instruction manual on how to engineer and invent things.  It wasn’t long before the whole company was running around with a bunch of guys with pocket protectors, the same button down blue shirt and all preaching from the same Ford manual.  When everyone’s drinking the company kool-aid, original thinking and creativity gets lost and innovation stalls. You can see from Ford history that they lost major market share because they stayed with the same design too long and this may be one reason why. Someone eventually realized that the program wasn’t going as planned and they started recruiting from a variety of universities again.  Thumbs up to original thinking.

And for all you white males out there, there’s even a case for you too. How many people have been turned away from a job just because they haven’t come from the exact industry they were applying for, or maybe you are trying to make a career change. My definition of diversity is very broad.  In this economy, people often want someone that fits 100% of the requirements. Perhaps experience  from a different industry or field can help bring a fresh perspective to a role.

What do you think?  Do you have an experience you want to share, either positive or negative? If you’ve worked at more than one company that was clearly more diverse, did you indeed feel more empowered?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole October 26, 2010 at 8:39 AM

We want a diverse student body for exactly those reasons, but our definition of diverse is also not just limited to race or gender. We consider age, geography, work experience, educational background etc. etc. etc. It is very good for students to see the whole world isn’t identical to them.

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FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com October 26, 2010 at 9:41 AM

I work in a very white male, middle-aged industry, and as a young woman it is easy once you know how to act/react and handle situations.

I find that the more diverse the project, the better it is, but I don’t look so much at gender, race, sexuality or diversity as the issue for me, as it is whether or not they know their jobs.

My #1 factor on how well I do or feel on a project is if I know my team is good at what they do and I don’t have to babysit them every step of the way.

When they start slacking, that’s when I am annoyed. White male or not.

I must say though, having a young girl on the team with me can be nice. We can at least bond and share ideas, but it doesn’t affect me if I don’t have a girl on the team either.

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FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com October 26, 2010 at 9:44 AM

SHOOT! I forgot to also write that in regards to your Ford study example, they did something similar with investment managers.

Women investment bankers on the whole tended to return higher gains and lower losses more consistently than men who like to take more risks by putting all the money into one hot stock rather than spreading it out.

I’ve seen something similar in another study about engineers as well, and if you ever watch TLC’s Cake Boss, you can see that it is the women in there who handle the delicate work of the sugar flowers, sculpting and colouring, over the men who are there.

It’s not to say that guys can’t make sugar flowers, but it seems like women prefer the job and do a better job of it, because they prefer it, the same as men preferring one role on a job and doing a better job of it.

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc October 26, 2010 at 12:55 PM

Interesting post. I recently became aware that women leading funded start-ups typically have greater success rates than male-led endeavors. I believe this also supports your desire for diversity. When working on a collaborative project, there also needs to be a meeting of the minds too. I don’t mind fulling supporting someone else in a leadership position. I do dislike it when people don’t have a clear plan (and not working towards such clarity) though.

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Invest It Wisely October 26, 2010 at 1:56 PM

Having a diversity of opinions and thoughts does help expand the possible solution space. Without that diversity one may necessarily be limited. It’s also helpful to note that this diversity has everything to do with life experiences and cultural background, and much less to do with the color of skin. Just look at Europe. I don’t think anyone should ever be favored nor disfavored solely due to “race”, so I don’t like affirmative action programs for that reason alone. I do see the value in cultural diversity, though.

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Everyday Tips October 26, 2010 at 4:15 PM

Diversity does come in many shapes. (I guess that is the definition of diversity in a sense.) Anyway, color definitely does not solely define diversity (and I am not implying you are saying that). I have found that my economic upbringing brings me a perspective that many professionals may not have. (I grew up broke whereas many of my ‘contemporaries’ were middle/upper class.) We all have different life experiences and we can all learn from each other. Ideas should always be solicited, but not to the point where a decision can not be made.

I have seen the situation where everyone gets the same training and then there are 10 clones all coming to the same conclusions and creativity is lost. Sometimes it makes sense to bring in someone from the outside to ‘spice’ things up.

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Sandy L October 26, 2010 at 5:37 PM

Nicole – so true and from a recruitment standpoint I think it’s okay to have our favorite universities, but I do think recruiting from a bunch of places is another way to get fresh ideas into a company.

FB – Unfortunately, in this environment where there’s been so much downsizing, a little babysitting is inevitable because everyone’s overloaded.

Roshawn – I didn’t realize all these factoids. I love it.

Invest it – Yeah, I have a very broad definition of diversity, but I do think if you are a minority, you are automatically exposed to a different world and perspective that the majority are not.

Everyday Tips – I agree..at the end of the day, there has to be one person who compiles the ideas and has the final say on the path forward, otherwise consensus building can go on forever. Plus, sometimes you don’t need the world’s most diverse team. Sometimes you just need that one wacky scientist to make the difference.

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Money Reasons October 26, 2010 at 9:20 PM

I agree, and that is why I like the blogsphere (in particular the pf blogsphere) so much!

Your monkey experiment was an excellent example of that, nice job!

Not only did you have human diversity in your experiment, you also had location diversity! How cool is that!!!

Nice job with the Carnival/Experiment!

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Molly On Money October 26, 2010 at 11:53 PM

I am the diversity in my profession -construction!
I once worked as the head of the construction division of a larger company. Each Dept. head had to take a personality test. They wanted to have a pulse on the dynamics of their managers. At one point the extroverts totally outweighed the introverts. We didn’t need to fire anyone BUT just knowing that helped us work in a more productive manner together.

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Sandy L October 27, 2010 at 2:59 AM

MR – Thanks. I definitely noticed the variety of views on certain topics and it personally enriches my learning experience. I received a lot of good feedback, so I will do it again.

MoM- interesting. My field is very technical, so men far outweigh the woman. On my team, women make up about 10% of the group and I don’t have an issue with the ratio as long as it doesn’t affect my career advancement. and I’ve had a good career. The interesting thing in sales is that many purchasing managers are women (at least 1/2), so I do get to work with a lot more women outside my company than inside.

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Aloysa October 27, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Interesting observations… Diversity can be a driving power but interestingly enough (or sadly enough) not everyone is open for diversity.

The monkey experiment was really cool. Too bad I missed it!

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Sandy L October 28, 2010 at 5:33 AM

Aloysa – I will have another writing experiment. A few people would have liked to participate. I haven’t gotten around to making my list of ideas yet. I’ll get to it in the next week.

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Financial Samurai November 6, 2010 at 8:53 PM

It’s good to see diversity online and in the big cities of America. The rest, not so much I guess. I was in the South earlier this year, and I was impressed by the kindness of the people down there.

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Christina November 18, 2016 at 11:13 AM

These are very informative points. The government contract qualification, lower turnover, and lower absenteeism results are definitely eye opening.

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Trenton January 23, 2017 at 4:49 PM

These are some very good points made about the importance of diversity. Diversity is great for any workplace. The more types of people you have collaborating on ideas and products the more well rounded solutions you will have. This is becoming me important is this globalized world. Thanks for sharing.

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