Diversity drives innovation

Nov 08, 2020

In an increasingly global marketplace, equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement strategies will be integral to the success of your organization for the foreseeable future.

Thinking ahead to 2021 and beyond, how will your strategic plan drive innovation? Is it a technology investment? Will you add new services to differentiate your firm? How will you unlock the potential of your people?

As an industry that solves problems, people remain the most important driver of innovation. For your upcoming strategic planning, what people-focused investments are you most excited about? What do you think will create long-term business value?

In an increasingly global marketplace, equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement (EDI&E) strategies will be integral to the success of your organization for the foreseeable future. Key drivers of diversity are globalization, technology, competition, and changing demographics impacting your workforce and marketplace.

Unpacking the terms. Sarika Bhakta of Nikeya Diversity Consulting says the business case for EDI&E is compelling due to existing research.

“Organizations that leverage diversity as an asset with equity, inclusion, and engagement initiatives can foster agile workplace cultures to drive more innovation,” Bhakta says. “When EDI&E is embedded in your firm’s culture diverse teams are more innovative – stronger at anticipating shifts in client and market needs to adapt, survive, and thrive when faced with industry disruptors.”

Diversity is multi-dimensional – racial/ethnic, gender identity, perspectives, leadership styles, sexual orientation, geography, and more. Equity is “what we have access to – systems, institutions, processes, and procedures that create fair and just opportunities for all leading to equal outcomes,” Bhakta says. “Inclusion is what we do. Are we inviting people to the table, letting their voices be heard, involving them in the process?”

Simply including others does not necessarily mean they are engaged. We must be cognizant of how a person is feeling – a sense of belonging, feeling valued, making a difference.

Acquired diversity. There are a myriad of ways to make equity, diversity, inclusion, and engagement intentional. Where do you start? Take a step back and understand this is a journey with no end point. Bhakta says you, as an individual, are on a journey, along with your organization and your community.

“This takes time, but with strategic intent you can create culture change for your organization and community,” she says.

One of the most interesting concepts shared in Nikeya Diversity Consulting training is acquired diversity. Beyond inherent diversity – like age, nationality, and race – there is an opportunity to “acquire diversity,” traits gained from experience and exposure to differences to enhance cultural competency. Examples include working with an overseas team, a millennial volunteering at a senior citizens center, or engaging in a robust religious study for a different faith than yours.

My favorite experience with enhancing cultural competency was taking a First Presbyterian youth group to a Mount Zion Baptist Church service. The “Frozen Chosen” as we are sometimes known for our somewhat reserved nature, loved the emotional worship experience with its full gospel band and rousing sermon. (The kids still prefer the hour-long service compared to the three-hour Baptist experience.) This is an experience that changed our own perspective and understanding of what worship could be.

Shive-Hattery experienced the benefits of varied voices with a Future Trends Taskforce. This diverse team of employees of varying ages, professional backgrounds, and perspectives consider big questions about the future. Through research and dialog, this group offered a fresh perspective for ways forward, especially in terms of design technology and innovation.

Making it strategic. For your organization’s journey, an EDI&E strategic plan is a crucial roadmap which proactively and intentionally guides you to truly drive innovation. First, conduct an EDI&E cultural assessment which helps to diagnose where your organization currently stands. This will dictate what initiatives must be prioritized in your strategic plan while establishing a baseline to gauge and monitor progress moving forward.

Secondly, ensure your EDI&E strategic plan is tied to your organization’s overarching strategic plan. This will reflect leadership’s commitment in making this a priority while ensuring it gets the support, funding, and resources to successfully embed it organization-wide.

Lastly, apply EDI&E to business metrics. This is essential to building a high performing organization. Make the business case for your initiatives by measuring continuous cultural change with regular employee engagement feedback, accountability of performance, and impact on quality and the client experience. Stories are the best evidence of progress. Be sure to share yours.

Greg Kanz is marketing director for Shive-Hattery, a 425-person architecture and engineering firm. Sarika Bhakta is president of Nikeya Diversity Consulting LLC. Contact them at gregkanz@shive-hattery.com and sbhakta@nikeyadiversity.com.

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