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Imaneh Ameli

Board member of Twinkle Association

How diversity can be an engine of creativity and innovation

 

Diversity seems to be a buzz word in the business world these days, and scholars are talking about how diversity can boost the engine of a company in order to be more productive, creative and innovative. Before going further, let’s define diversity:  

 “[The] definition of Diversity includes a range of differences in gender, nationality/ethnicity, ability, function, language and lifestyle. A diverse workplace does not merely consider the diverse demographic background but diverse culture and intellectual capability.”¹

 

How diversity can lead to innovation?

“To deliver a successful innovation, three stages are included:

1.      Conception (includes creativity)

2.      Successful development

3.      Successful application.”²

Diversity as the first step of innovation accelerates the creation of a new concept. Workplaces that are shaped by diversity have the potential and capability to utilize broader networks of contacts. This characteristic gives them the chance to receive more information³, which increases the rate of creativity and responsiveness to environmental turbulence.

For instance, imagine a heterogeneous group with members from different professional backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, and gender orientations working together. They are trying to find solutions for developing a product aimed at new segments. Not only can these people provide new contacts related to their segment for market research (e.g. understanding gay Asian buyer persona who are between 30 to 40 years old), but also because of belonging to that segment, they understand the buyer journey better compared to someone that has no clue about this segment. Therefore, having this vast set of information can accelerate the process of creativity and innovation of ideas.

Secondly, diversity can lead to successful development of a creative idea, because it will lower the level of risk aversion and makes the process of decision making and problem solving more efficient. Why? Because where diversity exists, critical evaluation of the first solution is supported as well. In homogeneous groups, people usually perceive things similarly and the first idea is accepted; therefore, critical thinking and seeing things from different perspectives is less prevalent.

 

Does diversity destroy cohesiveness?

One of the objections to diversity is that it damages the cohesiveness of a group. Since diversity leads to conflict and conflict can damage cohesiveness, some people are against it. Another argument is the existence of communication and understanding barriers between members of a heterogeneous group.

Although these problems are real, they can be tackled if diversity is effectively channeled. In fact, diversity improves the problem-solving process by finding creative solutions and innovative decision making: diversity of perspectives offers more critical evaluation and alternative ideas.⁴ Diversity management is an efficient way of building a platform for creativity and innovation, and prevents the aforementioned problems from occurring.

How to manage diversity?

According to Moore’s (1999) research, there are four behavioral stereotypes towards diversity: the diversity hostile, the diversity blind, the diversity naïve and the diversity integrationist.⁵ The first three behavioral stereotypes cannot understand that several management skill sets are needed to deal with the challenges of diversity. The last one is more active in channeling and managing diversity.

1-  Role of team leaders

In heterogeneous groups, the potential for creativity and innovation exists, but requires a good team leader to assist and lead the team members to give birth to new ideas and perspectives. For instance, setting ground rules will allow open and transparent communication between group members. A leader can create an atmosphere that encourages people to share their different perspectives. At the same time, members of the group become more used to considering different opinions, and take them into consideration instead of straight away opposing them.⁶ 

 

2-  Inclusion of diversity

Another important element of managing diversity in order to reach more innovative and creative solutions is to include the diverse group within the organization. This again is the story of channeling diversity in an efficient way. Without inclusion, diverse ideas will not have the chance to grow.

One of the ways to make a group feel like they belong to an organization, is to create social bonds between diverse groups. This means structuring teams in such a way that social bonding happens through solving different problems together.  An interactive office Layout also helps socializing to happen in a more open and natural way.

To give a more practical suggestion, before every meeting ask for initial ideas in a shared document or ask everyone to write their ideas on a paper and stick it on the board. This way, everyone feels that their ideas are taken into account.⁷

 

3- Go beyond the surface

It is important to mention that encouraging companies to apply diversity in their work places does not merely mean hiring people from different countries! It means recruiting individuals with shared professional values whilst having possibly different perspectives. Hire somebody who fits your organization’s culture - no matter what country that person is coming from, or  what their gender is - and who has a set of skills that complements the skills of your other employees. Applying this view would help to manage diversity very well.⁸ 

 

How is the value of diversity perceived in Finland?

A survey-based study conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in 2016, attempted to find out the attitude and perception of HR professionals towards diversity in Finnish workplaces.  Anna Savolainen⁹ elaborates, “The dimensions of diversity included age, gender, family situation, ethnic background, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, partial work capacity, and religion and conviction.”

Based on the findings, ethnic diversity affects the flow of information and communication significantly in the workplace and the immigrant employees seemed to have better ICT skills, better creativity, contributing to broadening the professional skills and cultural understanding within the organization. 87% of the Finnish HR professionals saw diversity as a strength in the 2016 survey, which when compared with 2011 (80%) and 2007 (82%), has significantly increased. However, it is still perceived that language skills and understanding of Finnish work culture are needed in order to find inclusion in Finnish companies.

These findings almost imply that Finnish companies understand the value of diversity and its relation to creativity and innovation.

 

But why do talented people from other countries still face a lot of difficulty in finding a job in Finland?

Knowing the value of something and not knowing how to use this valuable thing can prevent one from going forward. In fact, lack of knowledge on how to manage diversity has prevented a lot of businesses from utilizing such a valuable asset.  Educating companies to learn how to manage diversity is the best way to build a brighter, more diverse future.

Twinkle Association is attempting to make the value of diversity more visible in the first place and educate companies in learning how to manage and utilize this precious capital. In other words, the Twinkle movement believes that creativity and innovation are the most needed elements for promoting businesses in Finland and diversity accelerates this process. This is why the Twinkle2017 event on December 13th – 14th aims to create a platform for talents and companies to learn how to manage diversity and make it an engine for innovation and creativity.

 

 

 

References:

1.       Kossek & Lobel, 1996 cited by Nigel Basset-Jones

2.       Cumming.1998 cited by Nigel Basset-Jones

3.       Donnellon 1993 and Tushman 1997 cited by Nigel

4&5. Nigel Basset-Jones, 2005,The Paradox of Diversity Management, Creativity and Innovation.

6. Leif Denti, 2012, The Team Diversity Sweet Pot

7. A Culture Amp eBook, 6 Ways to Foster Belonging in the Workplace Taking Diversity & Inclusion to the Next  Levelevel

8. Cris Beswick, 2015, Diversity and Innovation- A Perfect Team

9- Anna savolainen, 2016, Finland: HR managers regard diversity as strength for workplaces

Imaneh Ameli

Communication and marketing professional studying Master of Global and Transnational Sociology at University of Tampere.
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