I think that today only a very stubborn few would deny a positive role that diversity plays in the marketplace. Studies abound pointing to better performance of companies promoting diversity in their ranks. For example, a 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Brazil, Mexico and Chile found a statistically significant correlation between the number of women and minorities in companies’ upper ranks and their financial achievements. In particular, in the U.S., for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the executive team, there was a 0.8 percent rise in EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes).
Not surprisingly, diversity also positively affects corporate innovation process. Of course, the very idea that a group of people with diverse professional experiences would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex problems is nothing new. However, a growing body of evidence (summarized in a 2014 article in Scientific American) now shows that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than socially homogeneous groups.
A couple of examples to illustrate this point. A study of 4,277 companies in Spain showed that the more women they had on staff, the more likely they were to introduce innovations into the marketplace over a two-year period. Similarly, data collected on 7,615 companies in London, U.K. demonstrated that businesses run by culturally diverse leadership teams were more likely to develop new products than those with homogeneous leadership.
It thus appears that non-homogeneous groups are simply smarter. Why? Scientific evidence summarized in a recent Harvard Business Review article provides an explanation. To begin with, diverse teams were more likely to constantly reexamine facts, question assumptions and scrutinize each member’s actions. Also, diverse teams processed information more carefully and were better than homogeneous groups at overcoming individual cognitive biases of its members.
True, diversity does increase tensions or even conflicts within non-homogeneous groups, although, perhaps, not as much as people routinely think. And yet, the higher performance of heterogeneous groups significantly overweights the risks of potential conflicts, especially if the group leaders are properly trained in conflict resolution.
The above studies represent good news for HR managers in charge of building innovation teams: in our rapidly globalizing workforce environment, finding people with diverse professional, personal and social attributes is becoming increasingly easier.
However, there is another way for organizations to reap the innovation benefits of diversity: to use crowdsourcing.
The availability of established crowdsourcing venues (such as InnoCentive, IdeaConnection and NineSigma) allows access to literally tens of thousands of qualified people capable of solving the most complex technical and business problems. Spread over 200+ countries and composed of individuals from every imaginable ethnic, religious or professional group, this “crowd” represents the most diverse innovation team one can only imagine.
There is one aspect of crowdsourcing that makes it even more attractive than working with fixed innovation teams. The way a team operates implies that no matter how many different opinions were proposed during the course of the project, the final decision will be a sort of consensus, which is not necessarily the best solution. In contrast, a bona fide crowdsourcing campaign makes sure that members of your crowd provide their input independently of the opinion of others. It is this aspect of crowdsourcing that was proven time and again to result in the delivery of highly original and often unexpected solutions to the problem.
The bottom line: using crowdsourcing will add diversity to your innovation process.