How Diversity Can Drive Innovation
by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin
Most managers accept that employers benefit from a diverse workforce, but the notion can be hard to prove or quantify, especially when it comes to measuring how diversity affects a firm’s ability to innovate.
But new research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth—a finding that should intensify efforts to ensure that executive ranks both embody and embrace the power of differences.
In this research, which rests on a nationally representative survey of 1,800 professionals, 40 case studies, and numerous focus groups and interviews, we scrutinized two kinds of diversity: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity involves traits you are born with, such as gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Acquired diversity involves traits you gain from experience: Working in another country can help you appreciate cultural differences, for example, while selling to female consumers can give you gender smarts. We refer to companies whose leaders exhibit at least three inherent and three acquired diversity traits as having two-dimensional diversity.
Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45% likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.
Most respondents, however—78%—work at companies that lack 2-D diversity in leadership. Without diverse leadership, women are 20% less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24% less likely; and LGBTs are 21% less likely.