ATD Blog

Igniting Innovation Through Diversity & Inclusion

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Innovation is a key driver for market leadership and a top focus in the C-suites across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Companies that fail to innovate risk being left behind—consider BlackBerry, Blockbuster, and Polaroid as cautionary examples.

In “Unleashing the Power of Innovation,” PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that innovation is now viewed as a mainstream process, a fundamental change from the days when it was seen as the purview of the R&D department. As a vital source for growth, fostering and sustaining innovation requires not only new ideas, but also increased collaboration and a culture that rewards challenging the status quo.

A new study from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that “serial innovation,” the kind that is sustainable for the long-term, is directly related to leveraging diversity and inclusion (D&I). This report posits two types of diversity, which create “2D” or two-dimensional diversity:

  1. inherent—based on traits such as gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation
  2. acquired—based on learning.

This CTI report found that when leaders promote 2D diversity, employees are 3.5 times more likely to contribute fully and such companies are 45 percent more likely to improve market share.
Clearly, to promote innovation, organizations need talent to generate and execute creativity and reflect changing customers and markets. This is where D&I comes in: to obtain the best talent, sourcing must expand to find the top people wherever they may be, rather than continuing to dig deeper within a narrow demographic.

Experience demonstrates, however, that unless organizational culture is inclusive so “out of the box” ideas can surface, diverse talent will not be leveraged, nurtured, or applied. D&I fosters these requirements.

Actions for training professionals

  • Provide training in team effectiveness, particularly for virtual teams which are increasingly a requirement in global organizations, so new ideas can be heard and executed.
  • Help managers know what they need to “stop, start and continue” from the talent lifecycle to attract, retain and develop D&I internally.
  • Provide cross-cultural awareness and D&I training so employees understand one another’s similarities and differences and how to best communicate.
  • Provide blended learning that helps employees at all levels stretch their innovation muscles. Include eLearning, instructor-led and access to books, such as Kill the Company by Lisa Bodell, Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, and The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor.
  • Publicize success stories. When D&I is effectively leveraged (such as a business process is improved, a new product is launched, or customer messaging is targeted correctly, and so forth), ensure that such positive examples are widely-shared. A real world example is provided below.

Innovation in Action: D&I Case Example


A global financial services organization required an innovative technology to deliver new products to its marketplace. The VP of information technology, based in Malaysia, reached out to his internal counterparts in China, Korea, Japan, and other APAC countries with a very ambitious mandate to develop and launch a paperless application in record time.

Coordination across the countries was challenging due to language and time zone barriers, but the team used multiple communication vehicles (including text messaging, graphics and most important, a strong desire to listen and collaborate).

The result: A cross-cultural team produced the application three months ahead of the deadline, and won an award for excellence. The team leader credits group dynamics and ability to leverage their respective diverse strengths in process, innovation and efficiencies with this big win.


What D&I best practices have you implemented to promote innovation?

To read more D&I blog posts, go to

About the Author

Marjorie Derven, a director at HUDSON Research & Consulting, has worked with many leading organizations to design change management strategies and initiatives that integrate organizational effectiveness, DEI, and learning to create solutions that drive meaningful change.

She formerly served as chair for TD Editorial Board and as a Senior Fellow at The Conference Board in the human capital practice. With 20+ years of consulting experience with top-tier companies across multiple industries, her areas of expertise include emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, global leadership development, talent management, and organizational research. Marjorie has published dozens of articles and is a frequent presenter at global conferences. For more information, contact [email protected].

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