Inclusion is the X-factor for agility and innovation

Embracing inclusivity does not necessarily require an entire reboot of a company’s culture. Rather, your company can become more inclusive by fostering a greater sense of innovation, inspiring engagement, accelerating your talent and building digital mindsets.

Given the rising importance of diversity and inclusion, many organizations are building internal D&I initiatives and teams to track diversity metrics and apply best practices for inclusion. While D&I numbers are improving across the nation, many feel that the rate of growth in hiring (and retaining) diverse workers is too slow. In tandem, data shows that women and minorities are still underrepresented on boards and senior leadership teams and many employees feel underrepresented or underutilized within their organizations. Feeling underrepresented, a good portion of the workforce is still likely to obscure their authentic selves at work to guard against potential discrimination.

These conditions can hurt a company’s bottom line by limiting diverse views in the development of new products, hindering true innovation, and leading to poor decisions and missteps from being too insular. Many companies have experienced product failure due to a lack of diversity. For example, the first voice recognition program failed to respond to female voices, or even many accents, due to the fact that the programs had been built and tested by men and native English speakers only. Despite 20 percent of searches now being done by voice, research shows that Google’s speech recognition is 13 percent more accurate for men than it is for women, leaving women and nonwhite people out of the equation once again.

To truly make a difference with inclusion, organizations need to move beyond an HR-centered focus on meeting diversity metrics.

“D&I has transformed from a compliance function to a cultural transformation accelerator for companies who want to establish themselves as relevant,” said Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, chief diversity officer at Microsoft.

McIntyre is right. Today, inclusion — creating the conditions where all employees are valued and welcomed to be their authentic selves — must be a business imperative. And without hesitation, I predict that organizations that focus on creating cultures of inclusion will gain an increasing competitive advantage in the years ahead.

Let’s take a closer look at the conditions required to truly foster a culture of inclusion at any organization. We think about inclusive behaviors across three categories:

  • Awareness: Encouraging leaders to recognize their own established patterns and biases, as well as the bias that’s present within their organizations. Awareness starts with recognizing the discomfort that comes with tackling a problem and honestly assessing how things need to change.
  • Authenticity: Acting with intention and modeling a learning mindset in which differences between people are seen and celebrated as valued contributions. Bringing your whole self to work can unlock unseen potential in people and teams.
  • Accountability: Setting the tone and modeling what inclusion looks like at an organization, and actively using power, privilege and position to include everyone.

Embracing a learning mindset allows for comfort with failure, flexibility with change, and surfacing new, innovative ideas quickly and effectively. Inclusive cultures, and leaders who practice inclusive behaviors, are creating cultures that are comfortable with change, quick to learn from failures or mistakes, and ready to identify new opportunities.

My own organization’s position on leadership capabilities includes valuing differences as a vital, now-more-than-ever capability for leaders across the business because it is critical to improving decision-making and generating higher levels of creativity throughout an organization. We also highlight the importance of personal adaptability, navigating complexity and fostering innovation — all capabilities that rely on the awareness, authenticity and accountability that drive inclusive cultures.

Inclusive leaders and the cultures they create encompass many behaviors and capabilities that align with the very same outcomes companies are trying to achieve. And the case has already been made for how valuable inclusivity is in driving business performance. In their Harvard Business Review article, “Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse,” Alison Reynolds and David Lewis tracked 100 groups of executives over 12 years and found that cognitive diversity — differences in perspective and information processing styles — led to higher performance. But it’s more than just outcomes; it’s also talent acceleration and innovation capability: A 2019 study by ZipRecruiter found that among millennials and Generation X respondents, 86 percent said that a company’s concrete commitment to workplace diversity affects their decision to work there. And a 2018 McKinsey & Co. study revealed that employees are 30 percent more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unblocked at an inclusive organization.

Companies are starting to recognize this overlap between inclusivity and business outcomes. Merck & Co. Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth C. Frazier said recently, “Diversity at all levels helps drive business performance and fuel innovation. Merck’s mission of saving and improving lives around the world is best facilitated by welcoming the greatest range of talent available.”

The Coca-Cola Co. is moving rapidly to innovate and adapt to changing consumer demand. One way the company plans to accelerate its strategic evolution is to drive growth through a culture that is curious, empowered and inclusive. The company is working to develop skills, capabilities, knowledge and an agile mindset among its leaders so they can effectively navigate an uncertain future.

“We consider that inclusivity is very much business critical,” said Leendert Den Hollander, vice president and general manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, at a recent event in London. “You can look at all the science; you can look at all the data and you read from that that the more inclusive, the more diverse businesses deliver better performance.”

Embracing inclusivity does not necessarily require an entire reboot of a company’s culture. Rather, your company can become more inclusive by fostering a greater sense of innovation, inspiring engagement, accelerating your talent and building digital mindsets. By laying this groundwork, you can more easily transition to becoming an inclusive company, allowing your employees to truly thrive.