A diverse company is a disruptive company. That’s according to a recent analysis from researchers at North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management. In their analysis of the 3,000 largest public companies, they found that more heterogeneous firms were more innovative and got more products to market than less diverse ones. It’s clear that bringing varied perspectives creates value for a company, but for those organizations looking to diversify their teams, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Nellie Borrero knows a thing or two about jumpstarting diversity. Borrero is the senior global inclusion and diversity lead at management consulting giant Accenture and a veteran of building organizational heterogeneity. She’s worked with the company since the early 1980s, when diversity in the workplace was a fledgling concept in corporate America. “I was the first person to focus on establishing diversity initiatives at Accenture,” Borrero says. “It was a solo journey back when I was starting. I had to ask myself, ‘How strong am I? How courageous can I be?’ And that was the beginning of understanding my responsibility: Educating those around [me] about the value diverse people bring to the table.”
Her efforts transformed how Accenture viewed these questions, resulting in a company that is consistently hailed as one of the world’s most diverse and inclusive. “We’ve evolved to form an amazing program here and there’s lots to be proud of,” Borrero says. She shared the lessons from her journey in diversity with Fast Company.
NEW PERSPECTIVES EQUALS NEW BUSINESS
As companies become more diverse, their opportunities to gain footholds in new markets increase. That’s according to a report from the Center for Talent Innovation, a workplace think tank. The 2013 report found that if a team member and a client share an ethnicity, they are 152% more likely to understand client needs.
Those diverse perspectives can drive innovation as well, since homogeneous teams can often get stuck in cultural echo chambers. That came as no surprise to Borrero. “In order to have a culture of innovation, you have to have a culture of equality,” she says. “You need people to challenge your thinking. If you’re focused on delivering based solely on your experience, then you run into tunnel vision quickly.”
FIND YOUR CHAMPIONS
Fostering corporate innovation can’t be strictly a grassroots effort; you need buy-in from those wielding power. But in order to generate that interest, you need to show them why diversity is a key to growth. “Understand who you want to align with, and select those influential leaders to have conversations with,” Borrero says. “You have to showcase the opportunities to evolve, and [demonstrate that] those opportunities are imperative to the growth strategy of whatever organization you’re a part of.”
Having a heterogeneous workforce means there’s a higher likelihood of a potential client finding common experiential ground with your team, a scenario that can mean the difference between winning and losing new business. According to a 2013 report, more diverse companies were 45% more likely to report annual market-share growth and 70% more likely to enter a new market.
Revenue-focused arguments for diversity can be effective in convincing those who may be satisfied with a homogeneous status quo, as well. Borrero encourages diversity advocates to make qualitative and quantitative arguments in order to transform their workplace. “Sometimes you have to agitate and disrupt to reshape company culture,” she says.
Changing how your company views diversity can’t be only about value prop, though — sometimes it requires simply being bold about change. Much of Borrero’s success can be attributed to her bravery in taking on entrenched attitudes towards diversity when she was first starting out. She points to a moment early in her career when she took the lead in bringing LGBTQ+ issues to the fore. “I knew we needed to do more for that community,” she says. “So, I went on a mission to understand people’s needs, scheduled a meeting with the CEO, and said if we were going to be committed to diversity, we needed to evolve as a company.” The result was putting LGTBQ+ issues on Accenture’s map, and creating a more inclusive and open environment.
Cultivating a thoroughly modern environment is more important than ever for recruiting Millennial and Gen Z labor, as well. According to a 2018 survey of nearly 3,000 Millennial employees, 86% would take a cut in pay in order to work at a place that reflects their values. “Leaders need to have a point of view. They need to understand the narrative that is their brand,” Borrero says. “Today, as well as in the future, people will join brands and organizations that are aligned to their value systems.”