Diversity as a Catalyst for Innovation

What if we thought of Diversity and Innovation in the same breath, as we now think of Diversity and Inclusion?  Diversity and Innovation are inherently linked, as breakthrough innovations require diversity. In my consulting practice, I observe that the most effective and innovative companies and teams are the most multi-ethnic, multi-region, and gender diverse. 

This month at the RISE Summit, I gathered with 4,000 people from 50 countries to celebrate diversity and innovation, as twin concepts.

We need new ways of thinking, being, leading, and hiring, and promoting to foster innovation.

What do we mean by innovation? According to Karon Shaiva who runs the RISE Summit, innovation is not just about products – rather it is about process as well as outcome. “Collaboration needs an eco-system which can catalyze innovation. For us, innovation is not the end product but the process that leads to innovation, the “what more” and “how and.”

Too often diversity is an afterthought, a mandated exercise or seen as politically correct. Diversity and Innovation are inextricably linked. After all, each innovation must go through a journey before it can succeed. It must be tested and challenged. Diverse teams do just that.     

There are several ways in which diversity can foster innovation:

  • Diversity leads to new ways of thinking
  • Diversity leads to new products  
  • Diversity leads to new processes and possibilities  
  • Diversity in hiring can create new markets

Creating new processes and possibilities

CSR Network (CSRN) is a breakthrough concept in which students provide consulting services. The company started in lock down and now has 80 projects in Lebanon, 70 projects in India, and is growing its presence in Africa. Diversity is key to CSRN, as is having students from around the world on the ground to provide new ways of thinking and acting.

Creating new markets 

Innovation is also about reaching new markets, for example the new-to-credit people. It takes a diverse workforce to foster new opportunities and reach new markets.

According to Karon Shaiva, “It’s time to change from D&I to I&D. Diversity is generally taken up by Human Resources departments with a compliance mindset. Instead, Diversity needs to be viewed through the lens of Innovation that drives growth. Then, the business case for Inclusion is no longer an issue and it is not a “nice to do” activity, it becomes “need to do” and crucial for success.”  

Watch the Roundtable on Diversity and Innovation