I recently joined my firm’s diversity project to help develop and foster acceptance and inclusion in the workplace.
Following my involvement with the project I concluded that:
- lack of diversity has an unavoidably negative impact on the depth of organisational knowledge and skills; and
- managing knowledge in circumstances where diversity is not actively encouraged is akin to trying to cook a tasty feast without herbs and spices.
People are the inherent repository of organisational knowledge and skills, and their knowledge and skills are formed by, and filtered through, their varied life experiences. The more diverse the life experiences of your workforce, the more diverse the knowledge and skills they contribute.
Knowledge and skills don’t only come from formal education, but also from life and cultural experiences. A workforce that is culturally diverse will have a depth of experience, knowledge and skills distinctly richer than a homogenous group of employees.
Diversity manifests itself in a great variety of characteristics: age, gender, sexuality, race, educational and socioeconomic background, and life experience, just to list a few of the obvious ones. But diversity should never become a mere tick-box exercise, to meet some arbitrary quota.
No matter what business you are in, from professional services to technology, from telecommunications to financial services or even construction (or what specific area of your business you are considering, whether it be the coalface of your business or managing knowledge, marketing, or social media), the more diverse your employees, or working group are, the better, and far more commercial and unique, and thus competitive, outcomes they will achieve.
This is because innovation can only come from freedom of thought which cannot thrive in an organisation lacking genuine diversity. True diversity, the freedom to be true to who we are, is fundamental to creating an environment where human beings, and freedom of idea and thought thrives.
The concept of diversity driving innovation is neither new nor controversial, but nevertheless it is still often overlooked, or considered low priority, too difficult, or even ‘political correctness gone mad’:
- Diversity drives innovation (The Age, 5 September 2014)
- Diversity in IT key to innovation (CIO, 1 May 2014)
- How diversity can drive innovation (Harvard Business Review, December 2013)
- Why ‘thought diversity’ is the future of the workplace (Business Insider Australia, 27 September 2013)
- Fostering innovation through a diverse workforce (Forbes Insights, July 2011)
- Diversity as an engine of innovation (Deloitte, 2011)
- Driving innovation through diversity (EY)
- Diversity and innovation (European Commission
- Inclusion inspires innovation (Apple)
Admittedly, you can have a very successful start-up venture sparked by ‘random’ genius which lacks sufficient diversity at the time of its establishment: Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Facebook illustrate this.
However, I would argue that there are significant organisational differences between a successful start-up venture and a mature business with longevity. Most of these classic male-centric technology start-ups are yet to enter the mature phase of their organisational development but, in any event, most are already identifying the lack of diversity a potential issue they need to address for success into the future:
- Exposing hidden bias at Google (The New York Times, 24 September 2014)
Consequently, knowledge professionals charged with managing and growing an organisation’s knowledge-base and skills, must promote and engage diversity, as a key knowledge resource.
I am proud to lead the charge myself for a more diverse and collaborative workplace, where acceptance, collegiality, and innovation are not empty buzzwords but tools for productivity and competitiveness.
Very relevantly to my comments above regarding diversity, on 30 September 2014 I received the following press release about a survey that examined the status of women in the legal profession.
The survey was conducted by InfoTrack at the 7th Annual Janders Dean Legal Knowledge & Innovation Conference: