Last week, The Medici Group hosted our first-ever Diversity Drives Innovation Summit for diversity executives. This intimate, immersive event focused on the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) as a rising force of innovation. At first blush, this may not sound so groundbreaking. After all, I wrote about diversity in the workplace as a force for innovation in my first book, The Medici Effect, almost a decade ago. Over the years, countless others have followed with excellent articles, surveys and research making the business case for diversity.
But in all this literature, the ‘how’ has not been explicitly clear.
Like many things, the prescription is easier than the treatment. Many Fortune 500 companies have appointed CDOs who have worked tirelessly to make diversity a core value at their company—such as creating Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), managing and retaining diverse talent and engaging in multicultural marketing. And while most can agree that diversity is a driver for innovation, the most common examples have been the creation of products that appeal to a specific multicultural consumer segment, even if that appeal is unexpectedly broader. By all accounts, these various initiatives have been resoundingly successful in creating a more inclusive company culture.
To the Medici mindset, however, we think diversity can be taken to another level: true collaboration across diverse groups focused simply on innovation. Here’s what we mean by this.
In the two years since we launched our strategy consulting practice, we have been brought in by CEOs, Business Unit heads, regional heads, Innovation officers and Strategy officers to develop strategic options geared towards profitability and innovative growth. In the process, those business leaders and their high potential employees experience what it means to leverage diversity for innovation—but diversity was not their key motivator.
In every single one of these assignments, we have used the organization’s diversity as a starting point. We include, but also look beyond, traditional dimensions of gender, race/ethnicity, age, nationality, sexual orientation, mobility, etc., across additional dimensions of diversity such as special interests, language skills, academic studies and longevity at their company. In some cases, we have been challenged. In an assignment in Latin America, for example, we had to push our client to include more women, and even then, the women participants had to hold their own with up to four or five dominant male colleagues.
The initiatives developed through these assignments did not focus specifically on a diverse segment. Depending on the client, for example, one whose customers are predominantly women, we challenged them to develop an initiative that would make men much more curious about their product. For the Latin America client, we suggested reaching a younger customer segment as a goal, and, for another large social mission organization, engaging the immigrant community. Many more goals were broader: improve the customer experience, extend your brand into a new line of business or increase revenue by ‘x’ percent.
Given this experience, we asked ourselves why the CDO is not contributing to, if not driving, this kind of innovative growth at their company? The message that diversity drives innovation is crystal clear, but the roadmap for a CDO to drive change is murkier. We are convinced that the CDO is one of the most uniquely positioned executives at a company, with multiple touch points and a horizontal view across the entire business…and a clear pathway to be a partner and driver of innovation.
At the Diversity Drives Innovation Summit, we worked with attendees to rethink their resources and levers of power. We provided an immersive experience where they looked at collaboration in a new light. And we challenged them to reimagine the role of the CDO. Here’s a shortlist of what our attendees envisioned:
CDO becomes as vital to the organization as the CFO
Strategy and planning process would go through the CDO, just like they do with the CFO
Managers would complete an impact statement that outlines a project’s impact on diversity and innovation
No percentages tied to anything; rather diversity is implicit in all actions
Build a map of organization needs and hire to that, rather than creating job descriptions
Make joining an ERG either completely unnecessary or completely common
Be the CEO’s first call when he/she realizes “I need to do things differently, help me”
Have the CDO run a product team using the tools and skills underlying diversity drives innovation
How would you reimagine the role of the CDO in this new context? We’d love to hear your thoughts!