How Inclusion Drives Innovation

Shirley Engelmeier is CEO of InclusionINC, a global consulting and learning organization. Prior to founding her own business, Engelmeier was one of just a handful of women assigned to senior management positions at two different global consumer product companies. It was during this time that Engelmeier says she learned the importance of the inclusion of all opinions and ideas in the workplace and perceived positive outcomes from including diverse employees, such as higher productivity, engagement and innovation. After this, Engelmeier decided to branch off on her own to help the industry evolve from diversity to inclusion as a driver of business growth.

Tell us about workforce trends you’ve observed in more than 20 years as an inclusion and diversity strategist.
Twenty years ago, HR professionals focused on managing diversity from a metrics standpoint, ensuring that each company met quantitative diversity goals. There was no link to business. It was strictly a representation metric to comply with regulations. In the increasingly global business landscape of the 21st century, companies that are not leveraging their diverse workforce to benefit the business will lag behind. Winning companies are mirroring their markets here and abroad to gather insights about their key target markets.

Other workforce trends include the emergence of multiple, active generations in the workplace simultaneously. This had a huge impact on the interaction within the workplace, as four generations must meld into one well-oiled machine. This is a result primarily of the recession, which made it harder for baby boomers to retire on time. At no other time in history have we asked so many different generations with diverse worldviews and work philosophies to work together.

Another major workforce trend is the increase of knowledge workers. Seventy percent of all U.S. jobs created since 1998 require conceptual skills of knowledge workers, and their skills are crucial to the bottom line. Creating a stage for these workers to share ideas and input has become vital.

What are some benefits of incorporating inclusion into companies’ hiring practices?
When a company embraces inclusion, they’ll experience internal and external benefits. Internally, increased employee engagement and productivity manifests when all opinions and ideas are valued. There is a sense of importance that goes along with having your voice heard that propels better business outcomes within a company.

Another internal benefit of inclusion is innovation. Tapping into your diverse workforce brings a myriad of diverse ideas to table. The best will bubble up to the top. A company whose brainstorming comes only from the boardroom will most often miss the diversity of thought and knowledge of certain markets, products and strategies. Inviting a diverse array of employees to participate in brainstorming sessions, however, will aggregate fresh attitudes from people who might have new and more relevant insights to share.

The external benefit of inclusion is increased market opportunity. Organizations that want to succeed in the new, interconnected world business landscape are embracing a concept InclusionINC has branded Key Employee Demographics Required for Growth and place a high priority on matching employees to markets. In mirroring markets within the workplace, companies can do a better job of providing the products and services customers need. This will ultimately lead to greater success — and benefit both employees and customers.

What are some workforce trends to expect in 2013?
2013 will bring a new era of workforce inclusion, which will have the following implications to the workplace:

  • There will be a dawning realization that representation metrics, by themselves, are obsolete. Who cares how many purple people we have in our organization? What matters is how those purple people (along with the green, pink and orange people) are contributing to driving business results.
  • Command and control will become obsolete. It is a myth that the person with the loftiest title has the best ideas, or the most valuable contributions to share. In 2013, titles won’t matter. Innovation doesn’t come from the C-suite. It comes from the front lines.
  • Mid-level managers will gain increased influence as organizations embrace inclusive practices. Research shows that employees feel most impacted and most engaged with their direct supervisors. If that’s true, those are the folks who are going to have the ability to make a difference when it comes to adopting, implementing and modeling inclusive behaviors.
  • We will see a growing trend toward business resource groups and employee networks, not only as a way for people with shared traits, interests and backgrounds to come together, but as a way for people to leverage what they learn in ways that impact the bottom line.
  • Collaboration will rule. Collaboration across global boundaries, organizational boundaries, cultural, demographic and racial boundaries. We will learn how we can create more meaning, more value and more impact by working together.
  • And, ultimately, there will be an increased awakening around inclusion as a business strategy — finally! Inclusion will be embraced as a bridge to customers, as the conduit to the establishment of what J. Walker Smith describes as “a kinship economy.” We will see the dawning of the age of inclusion and a recognition that inclusion is not only for diverse people. Inclusion is the new way of doing business.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.