Zoe Collins

Management Consultant

  • Innovation
  • Life Sciences
  • Improving Lives
  • Energy
  • Legal Services
  • Financial Services
  • Public Sector

23 Jul, 2020

Diversity And Representation Matters: How To Be Inclusive When Innovating

Discussions around diversity and representation are always important, but they have been dominating the news cycle in recent times. It's more important than ever that organisations take these matters seriously - not just because it's the right thing to do, but also because diverse voices can help to foster innovation.

But diversity and inclusion does not simply mean having a balance of gender and race in your workforce with appropriate representation at every level. It really means providing a safe and inclusive environment where work is enjoyable, and every voice is equal and heard.

Don’t focus on the numbers – consider diversity and representation in all areas of creation. That means policy, software, services and even the physical product. It means marketing and advertising. It means representation at Board level and all through the hierarchy.

When you have a diverse workforce, it’s important that they are present and seated at the table of innovation.

How not to do it: lessons from the real world

When Joshua Bada from west London started the process to renew his passport in September 2019, his picture was rejected. The reason? The facial recognition technology confused his “big lips” for an open mouth – and that’s contrary to guidelines for a “closed mouth and plain expression”.

Joshua later received a response to assure him that: “They will continue to improve this process for all of our customers.”

This shows that being more inclusive at the early stages of development can reduce error in AI powdered systems and that diversity and representation must have a seat at the table of innovation. If the team working on this AI featured diverse backgrounds, someone would have flagged during testing that a wider sample of people with various shapes and fuller features was needed.

“We know that [automated systems] have problems with gender as well,” says Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield. “And if you’re a black woman, you’re screwed. It’s really bad, it’s not fit for purpose, and I think it’s time that people started recognising that.”

Can we fix it? Yes we can.

The most obvious solution to these issues is to hire more people from diverse backgrounds – but the issue goes much deeper than that. An inclusive work environment needs to be cultivated before you can attempt to diversify it.

An inclusive environment should be the pillar of any innovative workplace or team.

Studies show that Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.

It fosters a work culture where everyone feels safe to share unusual ideas while still feeling empowered, no matter their race or gender – and this is, quite simply, not the case still in many organisations.

When you bring diversity and representation into the mix, you get views from various ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and levels of society, which in turn drives innovation in ways an otherwise white male dominated environment wouldn’t have dreamed.

Research shows that diverse teams outperformed individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time when it comes to making business decisions.

But this is important: if an inclusive environment isn’t already established, then those from minorities won’t feel comfortable and empowered to share their different views and will end up moving on from your business, finding or creating one that does empower them.

Inclusivity, diversity and representation are not separate factors working independently. They are building blocks that are essential to create an inclusive and innovative environment to produce technology and products fit for use by everyone.

Zoe Collins

Management Consultant

"At the heart of any successful change you’ll find people and engaging communications."

Zoe is a passionate change manager, transforming work environments into places where people love to be. She is a quality focused Prosci qualified practitioner, specialising in Business and Culture Change. She also specialises in Communications and Internal Marketing.

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