How diversity drives innovation and results, Sandra Smith

We need to recognize that diversity is a goal, and agree it’s the right one. Then, we must decide how we want to get there and take the steps.”

Focusing on the tech sector’s “inconvenient truth” regarding diversity and inclusion, EMSTL Program Director Sandra Smith begins her regular CIO Column with some inconvenient stats:  

  • Less than five percent of the tech workforce is comprised of non-white people
  • Less than a quarter are women

Digging a little deeper, Sandra continues by exploring the disconnect between the perception that we’ve made progress, and the reality that we really haven’t.  She recommends attacking the problem like you would any other in the tech field:  

  • Commit to the goal and agree it’s the right one
  • Decide how we want to get there and take the steps

Focusing on step one in this process, Smith critically examines why inclusion and diversity is the right goal for us.  “Thanks, to research, she writes, we have a quick answer to that one.”

“According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic and gender diversity are 35 percent and 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. In another study of 22,000 companies across 91 countries, companies with 30 percent female executives make six percent more in profit.”

To explain the connection between inclusion and innovation, Sandra references the work of Frans Johansson, author of the Medici Effect, who recently presented during an EMSTL residential session. According to Johansson, the unexpected comes from beyond expertise and logic. It’s what makes you stand out.  An example: Snapchat that made a business out of destroying the pictures you spent so much time taking.

If expertise and logic isn’t the source of the unexpected, what is? According to Johansson, it’s intersectionality – the unanticipated byproduct of the collision of diverse, maybe even clashing, forces:

One reason diversity helps us innovate is by providing inspiration from places and perspectives different from our own — finding inspiration is a lot easier when we actually have people on our team from places and cultures different from our own, whether that means adding people from different countries or bringing women into traditionally male-dominated industries. New ideas come from shifts in perspective, twists on the old by introducing the new, putting together puzzles you’ve never seen before.

“…the art and heart of technology are really about enabling human potential. That’s why we’re seeing the most advanced companies investing in human capital. They know that their best leaders stretch beyond their own hard technical skills to ensure that all employees have the capabilities and competencies to create ideas, products and services.”

Read the article in its entirety. 

Sandra will continue to explore leadership issues in technical fields in her Building the Leaders of Tomorrow series at CIO. What topics would you like to hear discussed? Feel free to contact us with your ideas.

Sandra Smith is the program director for Brown’s Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership program.

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