In recent years DE&I—that is, diversity, equity, and inclusion—has become a priority for many progressive organizations. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a source of competitive advantage. In order to solve intractable challenges that companies face today, they need to unleash the power and potential of all their people.  

Case studies from companies around the world show that business leaders who combine the right mix of skills, identities, and lived experiences through the creation of “diverse-by-design” teams are reaping the benefits. By tapping into employees’ unique skills and perspectives—and maximizing the group’s collective intelligence—leaders are seeing more innovation, fresh marketable ideas and creative solutions to business problems.  

According to the latest statistics from Korn Ferry, 80% of the World’s Most Admired Companies purposely create inclusive and diverse teams to improve team performance and creativity. Our research shows that diverse-by-design teams make better decisions than homogenous ones 87% of the time, and are 70% more likely to capture new markets. Inclusive innovators are also more likely to see their ideas become marketable products.  

Diversity at Work 

Activating Diversity at Barilla

Barilla, a world-leading manufacturer of pasta, bread and biscuits based in Parma, Italy, is a prime example of a company turning to diverse-by-design teams to drive innovation.  

Throughout its 146-year history, the organization has continuously invested in research and new technologies to improve its processes and develop sustainable products. But by accelerating its DE&I strategy over the past decade and learning to “activate diversity” through inclusive leadership, the company has found its sweet spot, says Floriana Notarangelo, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for the Barilla Group.  

“If you’re able to activate diversity, you will have more innovative ideas, processes, and technology available to you and not your competitors,” says Notarangelo.  

Notarangelo cites the example of launching Barilla’s successful product line, Legumotti, a rice-shaped pasta made entirely from legume flour. In developing the concept business leaders consulted employees of different roles, backgrounds, and experiences—along with one of Barilla’s key retailers—about how to increase legume consumption among a new generation of time-strapped cooks. “It’s that willingness to include people who aren’t 100% focused on research and development,” says Notarangelo. “Of course, the process is led by R&D, but you make the assumption that good ideas can come from anywhere.” 

Making Hybrid Work Inclusive

MSCI, a leading provider of decision-support tools and services for the global investment community, is another company using diversity at work to spur innovation and solve business challenges. Exiting the pandemic, MSCI needed to develop a hybrid working model that would be inclusive of all its 6,000+ employees globally, while also serving its customers. “It was important that everyone had a voice in our solution because it needed to penetrate the entire company to be successful,” says Tia Counts, MSCI’s Chief Responsibility and Chief Diversity Officer.  

Working with Korn Ferry, MSCI designed a pilot program to ensure its future work solution was as employee-driven as possible. Rather than approaching senior staff to develop a plan, MSCI created diverse-by-design teams from across a number of employee demographics, roles and levels. They specifically focused on the overall team dynamic instead of individual strengths, to see if the collective efforts of diverse teams would prove more fruitful. 

The results were positive on two fronts, says Counts. First, input from these diverse teams successfully provided innovative elements that formed part of the new hybrid work model. And second, the engagement level of these teams was notably superior to programs where diverse and inclusive groupings weren’t as intentional.

“Leaders must greatly expand who they let in on the innovation process. They should consider diverse groups of stakeholders, including employees, customers, community, and board members, too.”

An Urgent Need for Diverse Teams  

In a global economic climate, diverse teams are expected to become more prominent in the workplace—to put it simply, there are more companies out there attracting varied employees from around the world. But as technologies like artificial intelligence continue to gain momentum, the case for creating diverse-by-design teams right now is even more compelling, says Mike Solomons, Inclusive Innovation Solutions Leader and Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry. “We’ve seen statistics that say 70% of the routine tasks that homogenous teams tend to be better at are going to be automated,” he says. In turn, diverse teams will become a huge advantage as they’re able to work on complex challenges. 

For companies looking to shift current DE&I programs towards innovation, Solomons points to some key elements that can guide companies along the way.  

  • Executives need to promote inclusive leadership and be “open and explicit” about business challenges that can’t be solved with traditional thinking, says Solomons. “For MSCI, they recognized that the organization needs to work for everyone,” he says. “It couldn’t have been a top-down, one-size-fits all mandate.”    
  • Leaders must greatly expand who they let in on the innovation process. They should consider diverse groups of stakeholders, including employees, customers, community, and board members, too. It can take thousands of ideas to come up with one breakthrough, says Solomons, so engaging different perspectives can get businesses there faster. “Once we break down those boundaries, we now have the option of co-creating with those who are experiencing the challenges themselves—and who are equally invested in the solutions,” he says. 

Beyond just developing diverse-by-design teams, inclusive leaders must remove barriers and cultivate environments where every participant has a voice and differences are valued. “We may have a team with great potential now, but they’re fragile and new, and we want to make sure we can activate them,” says Solomons. “That’s where the leadership really comes in.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Unleash the power of all

How to Cultivate Diversity at Work 

Diverse teams can help solve business challenges, supercharge innovation, and enable business growth—so it’s a no-brainer for companies to implement diverse-by-design teams into their DE&I strategies. Find out more on how to get the structure, processes, and ongoing support to make it happen in your workplace.  

Want more inspiration first? Listen to our webinar series from some of the leading global experts in DE&I.

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