How Diversity Improves Innovation and Your Bottom Line

How Diversity Improves Innovation and Your Bottom Line

“The single biggest predictor of innovation is diversity in your team.”  Dr Vivienne Ming

When I heard this on a webinar last week, it got me thinking.

So many professional services businesses remain fairly conservative (with a small ‘c’) in their recruitment and promotion practices.  They tend to select graduates from the same universities that the leaders themselves went to and from the same kinds of backgrounds.

This does not help innovation at all!

You’ll know from our recent blogs, that standing out from the crowd in professional services has become essential, rather than a ‘nice to have.’  This shouldn’t just appear in your branding and marketing, this innovation should appear in your products and your services too.

How Does Diversity Improve Innovation and Your Bottom Line?

I need to work backwards on this one, so let’s start with your bottom line.

To increase revenues and profits, all professional services businesses must improve their efficiency and productivity.  There is a limit to how productive a human being can be during a normal working week.

Us humans tend to have ‘off’ days where we are not as productive as we’d like to be.  Plus, we need holidays, weekends and evenings off.

To balance the slightly unpredictable human element in your business (we will always need people and people are THE most important element of your business) you need to innovate.

Innovation specifically leads to changes in technology, processes, methods of delivery and systems, which when designed and implemented properly will increase revenues and improve profits.

How do you innovate?  

Innovation comes from a diverse range of ideas.  If everyone on your team or in your business is from a similar background with a similar kind of education and experience, then you’re going to have similar ideas.

This is where diversity matters.

Why Diversity Matters

When you recruit a more diverse team, whether that’s a team made up of people who are non-white, from the LGBGTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) community or simply from a different educational or cultural background, then the teams have to think differently about a whole host of things.

Plenty of studies have been done to show that the more diverse a team is, the more productive they are.  This is because more effort is made to communicate, understand and collaborate.  Think about it.  If everyone in the room looks and sounds the same, you’re not having to work particularly hard to think or communicate and you end up with ‘group think’.  Very little innovation can happen in such a team.

Our blog about neurodiversity also points out that having people who are neurodiverse in your business can be a huge asset to your business.

A smiling man with a beard and long hair, wearing a white top, in front of a blue gradient background

How Does It Improve Your Business?

Dr Ming also talked about the studies that have been done around innovation in the scientific world.  The evidence that emerged was that the more women and non-white people who were listed as authors on the scientific papers, the greater of number of innovations were cited within the paper.

Sadly, she also noted that as the number of women and non-white authors increased, so the number of citations that particular paper achieved, dramatically decreased.

Now, we’re all human and we cannot help like the people who are like us.  It’s how we’re built.  However, what you can do as a leader of a professional services business is to proactively challenge your current recruitment and promotion practices, checking for hidden bias and checking your behavioural standards aren’t accidentally discriminating against a whole group of people.

A woman wearing sunglasses waving one arm in the air against a blue gradient background

How Diversity Improves Innovation and Your Bottom Line

I’d like to end this blog by noting that when we work from home, it becomes even harder to notice where the ideas are coming from.  Running a team via video is difficult, spotting the innovators and idea generators is even harder.

Dr Ming talks about creating small groups with flat hierarchies and a great deal of autonomy which can get together informally to ‘play’ around with ideas that aren’t work related.  

I would recommend doing this via a non-work related platform such as FaceTime or WhatsApp so it feels more relaxed and more fun.  

These small groups could be working on a fund raiser, be exploring a shared interest or be organising a solution to a local problem.  One group I heard of recently were simply sharing their favourite Bands and LP’s via a WhatsApp group which led onto conversations with people they didn’t normally speak to.  This doesn’t quite replace those ‘water cooler’ moments, but it gets closer.

The Bottom Line

Go back and check your recruitment advertising and processes.  Take another look at your performance management system, the measurements you use to measure success and double check your own hidden biases.  We all have them and we need to challenge them.

If your professional services business is to thrive well into the future, then innovation is the key and innovation comes from a diversity of opinions, thoughts, cultures, backgrounds and perspectives.  Plus, I have to say that recruiting from a diverse pool of talent is more fun. 

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