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The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

Diversity that drives innovation is a result of a strategic focus that not only embraces difference but also cultivates it.

The Link Between Innovation and Diversity

There is an often-overlooked method to create an innovative team: diversify. But to diversify, companies must go beyond demographics. Diversity that drives innovation is a result of a strategic focus that not only embraces difference but also cultivates it.

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According to a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, there are two forms of diversity – inherent and acquired:

Through the conscious marriage of inherent and acquired diversity, companies can begin to drive innovation in a new and more impactful manner. For example, inherent diversity empowers the greater identification of opportunities and more authentic relationships with key audiences. According to the article, “When at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares a client’s ethnicity is 152 percent likelier than another team to understand that client.”

But shared ethnicity or cultural connections are only a fraction of the innovation equation. Acquired diversity provides the framework, experience and language to capitalize on opportunities and manage challenge. However, it must be intentionally developed, requiring employees and leaders to step outside of their norms to gain new understanding.

At Edelman we continue to become more intentional about developing diversity to spur innovation. We ensure our talent ranks have representation from myriad generations, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and orientations, and have taken creative approaches such as the Edelman-Newhouse Diversity Internship Program (ENDI) and the Edelman Posse Program, which recently won the top award in the 2013 PRWeek Diversity Distinction Awards in the Best Community Initiative category.

We also place a priority on programs that cultivate acquired diversity. For example, now in its fourth year, the Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellows program will be sending 14 rising stars to work and learn in new global markets for a year. Through this program, fellows will share insights from different cultures while gaining experience for navigating in a global and diverse market place.

Despite the numerous programs that support both forms of diversity, there is an opportunity, and responsibility, of us all to enhance our acquired diversity by “showing up differently.” Spend time reading and learning about business in a different global market, go to a show or festival targeted to a different culture or do volunteer work for a non-profit that serves a demographic vastly different that yours. By taking advantage of both professional and personal opportunities for unique and diverse immersions, we all can be better equipped to drive innovation.

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Zing Shaw is Edelman’s U.S. director of diversity & inclusion while simultaneously leading the human resources function for the southeast region. Her role requires her to work directly with key senior stakeholders across the U.S. to lead the implementation of Edelman’s diversity & inclusion strategy, workplace initiatives and events. You can follow her on Twitter: @ZingShaw

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