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A level playing field: how inclusivity breeds innovation

There’s always been a human case for diversity and inclusion, but the business case has never been stronger

An increasing number of senior executives believe that diversity makes good business sense. In a recent Forbes survey1, more than half of companies with more than $10bn in annual revenue strongly agreed that diversity helps drive innovation.

A diverse workforce means a diverse array of talent. McKinsey & Company’s2 2019 analysis suggests companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25 per cent more likely to show above-average profits than companies in the fourth quartile.

But many feel the diversity and inclusion gap in the workforce is growing. Recent research3 from PwC suggests that just 51 per cent of UK retail employees believe their brand promotes inclusion. 

Too often, says Melanie Lougee, ServiceNow’s head of Employee Workflow Strategy, diversity and inclusion is an afterthought or a case of paying lip service. One of the biggest traps is stopping the commitment after the recruitment cycle. “Hiring for diversity without creating the sense of belonging and inclusion that will actually keep people interested and engaged just results in a revolving door,” she says. It’s essential to first undertake a proper inventory to determine whether the right policies, resources and cultural awareness exist for people to thrive in your environment.

ServiceNow, a digital workflow solutions company, created its diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) community with a focus on intersectionality. It introduced seven employee-led Belonging Groups and a "DIBs five-point plan", which includes workforce training, building inclusive skills and mindsets, equity for all, creating and evolving equitable processes, policies and practices, giving employees a voice, fostering a sense of belonging and space for dialogue, lobbying for good, advocating for change and increasing representation and inclusion

Some of this inclusivity is found and created within a company culture, but it is also put into action outside the workplace. One of ServiceNow’s pillars focuses on being active in the broader community. Lougee says this means “making sure that we have relationships with underrepresented schools, educational systems, communities and professional organisations''.

Equity and fairness are also key, she says. “We’ve achieved compensation parity between men and women around the world and we’re pretty proud of this.” Some of this also comes down to visibility. “We have a lot of very proactive programmes around education [including a DIBs Leadership Summit] and a speaker series. We don’t just check a box. We make sure we celebrate each other.”

And making a commitment to diversity and inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do: it benefits the bottom line too. “When people come from different experiences, they bring those unique experiences and perspectives with them,” says Shafath Syed, strategy lead for Employee Workflows, Emerging Products. “There’s a broader aperture for ideas.” For innovation to really flourish, says Syed, you need a continuous source of ideas. “If you only have a limited set of points of view you're going to miss a lot.”

Innovation on behalf of underrepresented groups often produces benefits for everybody, says Syed. “When people were first developing web pages they had to be friendly for screen readers used by people who are visually impaired. And now look at where we are with voice-to-text. All this started with the simple screen reader.” 

Technology can be a real enabler in workplace inclusion, too. “Firstly, it’s about providing information and learning content in a scalable way,” Syed says. “Technology can also help organisations respond to employee and customer questions and needs.” Portal technologies, such as ServiceNow’s Employee Service Centre, encourage greater visibility of diversity and inclusion issues by providing employees with targeted information based on their role. These portals also act as a central destination for employees to collaborate with internal discussions, get guidance and access help when they need it. ServiceNow even has learning tools that deliver customised insights and actionable tips to employees as well as listening tools that elicit employee feedback in the flow of their work.

There is a danger, observes Lougee, that technology may reinforce existing biases within an organisation or deflect employee needs without asking follow-up questions. Key to ensuring this doesn’t happen, she says, is being aware of and eliminating those biases. It’s also about facilitating close contact when needed and identifying situations where escalation is necessary. Technology can provide a vital lens, says Lougee, but “any insights should be interpreted and applied by humans and audited at various points by a diverse set of people.”

Actions speak louder than words, and now is the time to double down on diversity in the workplace. Not only will it strengthen employee engagement throughout your organisation, but by making space for different backgrounds and points of view you’ll set the stage for ongoing innovation.

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