When Diversity Asked For Innovation’s Hand In Marriage

By Melva Tate

I have to think that Inclusion was a bit surprised when Diversity came home and shared his plans to add to their union. You see, Inclusion has been married to Diversity since the early nineties. And their marriage, although sustaining a few bumps and bruises along the way, has been very productive.

Since their union, no one has mentioned Diversity without immediately thinking of and adding his beautiful bride Inclusion, to the conversation. Diversity & Inclusion became like so many other famous duos that mandated the declaration of both names for the announcement to be complete. If I said Batman, you would immediately think of Robin. If I said Sonny, your response would be Cher. Mickey, you automatically have an image of Minnie and her big smile. Albert and Costello, Bert and Ernie; you get the picture.

But now Diversity has extended his hand to Innovation. Not divorcing Inclusion, but adding Innovation to the marriage. Like an episode of Sister Wives or Big Love, Diversity, Inclusion and now, Innovation has found a way to make this marriage work.

The discussion of diversity is or should be top of mind for all of us. We can’t get away from the debate about our differences. It’s everywhere. If you closed your eyes and simply heard the chatter, you would think we were in the era predating the signing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII and the civil rights movement that followed.

Turn on the television, scan through the radio, or log on to social media, something about our differences, our diversity, is trending or leading the headlines. The Muslim ban, build the wall, transgender individuals and their use of a public restroom, and the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, VA. We’re all talking about what makes us different. But why does this remain a challenge for us?

My favorite definition of Diversity defines it as a mosaic of people who bring a variety of backgrounds, styles, perspectives, values, and beliefs as assets to the groups and organizations with which they interact. Whether the “variety” is based on religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and gender, or one of the numerous factors of our differences that make America the great melting pot that it is.

Despite the turmoil in our society, organizations have the additional task of dealing with the globalization of business that has produced fast-paced, and competitive environments. And despite all the societal challenges, they realize two things: they must be diverse and they must be innovative.

The drivers for an organization’s diversity management program, supported by innovation and inclusion, are clearly recognized and respected. We have demographic trends that have led to a changing workplace profile. Companies are more aware of the tie between their diversity and inclusion initiatives and their organization’s brand. They also realize the importance of D&I to proactively adhere to laws and regulations and eliminate, or at least minimize, employee lawsuits.

To Lead D, I&I – Leaders must have cultural agility

The term, “been there – done that”, is even more significant for leaders to be effective in managing diversity, inclusion, and innovation. Leaders must have cross-cultural agility which is their ability to adjust their behavior to work with other leaders and employees as their authentic selves.

To Lead D, I&I – Leaders must have self-awareness

Emotional intelligence and self-awareness will allow leaders to be more attuned to their unconscious biases. Unchecked, a leader’s unconscious biases will stifle innovation. We see this in their failure to recruit diverse talent, assign creative projects, interaction with certain team members, and most detrimental, their unwillingness to listen to their team’s ideas and suggestions.

To Lead D, I&I – Leaders must encourage employees to share their voice

Effective communication is vitally important for diversity, inclusion, and innovation. Employees must be provided a platform to share their voice and to voice their concerns. Without a safe space or platform to share concerns, we’ll see many more bold documents like the “Google Manifesto.”

To Lead D,I&I – Leaders must allow their team to draw outside of the box

To effectively lead diversity, inclusion, and innovation, leaders must abandon the status quo and give their teams permission to draw outside of the lines. They realize to develop them into catalysts for innovation, and spark greater creativity, there should be no, or very limited, boundaries. They realize that organizations can no longer be static, but must operate with a virtual, mobile and global mindset to remain competitive.

To Lead D,I&I – Leaders must be empathetic

It is not only important for leaders to have cultural agility, but they must be empathetic. They must pause, search inward, and be willing to put themselves in a team member’s shoes. True- they may never experience the challenge, but to simply imagine what it would “feel like” if they did.

Because Innovation said yes, we all benefit from the union

The I do’s are done, a wet-juicy kiss sealed the deal, and now it’s time to throw rose petals and celebrate. We all benefit when diversity, inclusion, and innovation decided to form a trinity.

Employees in D,I&I environments seek was to be innovative without fear or failure. They embrace opportunities to be creative and realize that just because we’ve always done it this way, does not mean today is not the day for change. We see a stronger desire to collaborate, that by design, builds stronger teams and teamwork. And to HR Leader’s delight, we see fewer complaints, grievances, absenteeism, and more.

The benefits to employers are numerous: more money, more market share, customer focus and increased productivity. This in turn yields, a stronger company reputation, and brand.

Research has provided undeniable evidence that diversity is a primary key that unlocks innovation. In environments where employees are encouraged to share their voice and draw outside of the lines, new products are developed, new service lines are implemented and new ideas have fostered.

HR practitioners must think strategically and partner with senior leadership to create an organizational culture that embraces the union, thereby generating the best ideas from people in all levels of the organization and incorporating them into business practices.

Melva Tate, PHR/CLC
Tate & Associates, LLC