On May 15, I attended SAP’s Call to Lead Summit, where the discussion focused on leadership and diversity in the age of innovation and disruption. From the fireside chat with Ted Colbert, CIO of Boeing, and Jamie Miller, SVP, GE and President & CEO, GE Transportation, as well as the discussions with several other speakers, one underlying point emerged constantly across conversations—to win in the digital economy, companies must embrace diversity.
Diversity has been discussed and debated for decades. Over time, the boundaries of diversity have evolved far beyond gender to include race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, and the other multitude of dimensions that make each of us unique in a sea of 6 billion people.
As companies begin their digital journey by assimilating technologies such as cloud, automation, analytics and artificial intelligence into their corporate DNA, they are disrupting the norm within their organizations as well as in their industries. As Colbert and Miller shared, teams made of a diverse set of people are thriving in this new norm and finding new opportunities, such as identifying ways to better personalize the experience on planes and within cargo logistics. Colbert mentioned, “We need to be as diverse as the customers we serve.” Numbers back this fact. Companies that rank in the top quartile on ethnic and gender diversity report improved financial results.
Why Does Diversity Matter?
In an era where disruptive change is the common denominator, what does workforce diversity mean for the new age organization? The diversity of individuals determines the diversity of thought, attitude, approach, and these, in turn, open up new possibilities, create different opportunities, and power unique innovations.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article on diversity, working with individuals who are not like you helps to disrupt thinking to see things differently. In fact, studies cited in the article show that nonhomogeneous teams tend to focus on facts, process facts more carefully and achieve innovation more so than homogeneous teams. Other sources also highlight how problem-solving flourishes when working with a diverse set of individuals. For example, cosmetic giant L’Oréal attributes much of its impressive success in emerging markets to its multicultural product development teams.
Take the age diversity that has emerged today. Baby boomers bring with them the wealth of practical experience that comes with years on the job. Millennials, on the other hand, are more digitally-savvy and flexible in their thoughts and approach. Fostering a culture of two-way learning where the oldest and youngest employees imbibe knowledge from each other can help people unlock new skills or discover new value they can bring to their work.
Even when we look at gender diversity, an interesting perspective emerges. Studies show that women in leadership, and overall, women at the workplace have a higher degree of empathy and emotional quotient. These, coupled with high intelligence quotient, open up several non-linear possibilities that can be otherwise missed.
Where to next?
Reflecting on the Call to Lead Summit, I found that more than any single discussion, it was the statement made by the collective presence of over 1200 business leaders representing 600+ companies that showed commitment to creating a level playing field. Executives are beginning to see a new frontier steered by diversity.
As Colbert highlighted, “The most productive teams are the most diverse. As a leader, you need to bring them all together and make it work.”
Globally, large corporations are recognizing this and diversity has crept its way up the CEO’s top priority list. There is a realization that this imperative must be driven from the C-Suite table and supported from the boardroom all the way to entry-level employees. Each individual needs to own and be accountable for creating and having an equal chance to succeed.
Diversity and inclusion have been a topic of much discussion and debate for decades. There’s no denying that corporate imperative is needed now more than ever to ‘disrupt—rather than be disrupted’.
About Ritu Anand
Ritu Anand has over 28 years of experience and has worked with organization like Tata Consultancy Services. Ritu holds a Ph.D. Psychology from University of Mumbai.