Diversity and inclusion. These two words are amongst the most important topics in today’s culture. Simply look at the Google trend for the search term “diversity and inclusion” over the past 15 years worldwide. In fifteen years, it has grown from nearly 0 to 100.
So, why is this such a hot topic, especially in today’s workforce? A variety of backgrounds and perspectives create a greater range of talent, give access to a greater breadth of insights, and improve employee engagement and retention. This translates to organizations being more effective, more innovative, and more profitable, which McKinsey demonstrated in their report showcasing “companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity had 53% higher ROEs.” Another recent report indicated that 25% of growth in output per worker in America between 1960 and 2010 can be attributed to improved talent allocation due to integration by sex and race. Our collective cultures are providing the data to showcase what feels good to humanity: equal representation.
Innovation Promotes Diversity and Inclusion Breeds Innovation
Innovation promotes opportunities for diversity and inclusion breeds innovation; this is a symbiotic relationship. As society moves from the age of industrialisation to the age of digitisation, established corporates, established ways of working, and established leadership styles have been massively disrupted. With this disruption has arrived the need for new skills, new opinions, and new voices at the table. And, we can see this being reflected in today’s executive boards, pop culture, and products. In 2018, companies like Netflix, M&T Bank, and Uber all made great efforts to increase diverse leadership within their organizations. Celebration of diversity drove the success of pop culture sensations such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. Additionally, in 2018, Microsoft announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is a specific controller designed for individuals with physical impairment. It is these initiatives and technology that are waking up entrepreneurs and providing increased opportunity for all.
And yet, still, the statistics about gender diversity in innovation make dismal reading. In 2018, only 2.2% of venture funding in the USA had female founders. Whilst many of us recoil at any mention of positive discrimination, there is a growing recognition that we need to be proactive in moving to a position of greater equality. Many large firms, including the likes of LinkedIn, now leverage AI to overcome the human biases that hinder diversity in the recruitment process.
So, what can we do to catalyse this painfully slow process? Fear and greed are known to be amongst the strongest drivers of emotion, and, therefore, behaviours. So this year, let’s solve for fear by demonstrating why everyone in innovation needs to take accountability for increasing diversity in their teams and projects.
Why Diversity in Innovation is Literally a Matter of Life and Death
As a direct result of the under-representation of ‘female’ crash test dummies, female seat-belted drivers will have a 47% higher chance of injury than male belted drivers in equivalent crashes. This sobering statistic is a result of women being excluded from both the car manufacturing design and test processes.
In 2018, Amazon was widely derided following exposure of their secret AI recruiting tool that turned out to favour men. Indeed, AI enabled products and services continue to provide us with an ever increasing number of cautionary (and sometimes terrifying) tales of where lack of diversity could lead to fatal results.
In 2010, Microsoft’s facial recognition software Kinect, reportedly failed to recognise people with dark skin. Fast forward 5 years and Google’s tagging algorithm for its Google Photos app infamously mis-labelled photos of black people as gorillas. Today, one of the most important use cases for computer vision is in self-driving cars, but, if systems are unable to accurately identify a diverse set of human physiques, we are entering a dystopian reality where the colour of skin will correlate to how safe people are on the road.
Consider similar parallel scenarios in areas such as medical diagnosis or drug discovery. These are examples where differences in gender biology may require significantly different scientific and technical solutions. In 2014, Apple’s iOS team launched the Health app to track pretty much everything, but famously “forgot” women’s menstruation cycles (and this coming from a company that is predominantly white and male).
We must train models on different and diverse data sets. This is a must. Furthermore, new products and services need to be tested on a wide range of individuals. If the data used to train models and the individuals tested against are not diverse, it is not representative of the real world and will create future inequalities with potentially lethal consequences.
AI and other ML technologies will increasingly change the way products are designed, built, and used. The more diverse the team, the better the product or service will be.
What You Can Do to Champion Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion is a complex issue and one that requires both awareness and action. It can be overwhelming to learn some of the realities we are dealing with such as only 15% of graduating computer science classes representing females. However, there are some actionable initiatives for all of us to take:
- Always ask ourselves if we are really bringing humanity into our innovation, particularly in the product design phase.
- Consider who is NOT in the room when a decision is made.
- Be more open about what we don’t know and cast our nets wider accordingly.
- Think beyond diversity and inclusion and towards equality – we must each take accountability for the power that we hold and use this to drive change.
And for anyone who’s in doubt about what is meant by this vocabulary, here is a brilliant analogy from Jodi Kovitz:
“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance. Belonging is dancing like no one is watching.”
I would urge you all to check out who is on the dance floor in your organisations.
To learn more about how your company can expand diversity and inclusion initiatives to drive innovation forward, connect with innovation consultants at RocketSpace. RocketSpace offers corporations proven methodologies to not only bring tangible business value through external innovation, but also to inspire teams and change the innovation mindset and culture of a company. RocketSpace provides speed and direction to the world’s top tech startups and corporate innovators.