There are any number of strategies that point to ways to increase employee satisfaction and build the internal culture of your brand. What about using that internal culture to innovate and affect your external success? That’s disruption, and it’s a term on every business’s to-do list these days. Disruption, however, cannot happen without diversity. Sticking to the traditional business model of straight white men—whether you’re talking about a technology company, a financial institution, or an advertising agency—is like insisting on using your analog system in a digital world: It’s both outdated and unlikely to succeed, and that’s being generous. Precisely what role does culture play in disruption, and how does diversity make it happen? Let’s explore.
Why the Path to Disruption is Paved with Diversity
Disruption—you know your business wants to do it, but do you know exactly what it looks like? Organizations that are disrupting their industries are one step ahead, bringing customers what they need ahead of schedule. They’re accomplishing this by leveraging technology and innovating with impact. Examples include novel applications of big data that reshape entire approaches to marketing, artificial intelligence and chatbots impacting customer service, the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) into everything—including the public sector.
In essence, disruption is a product of ideas that are not just thrown around in a brainstorming session but strategically applied to bring big-picture value. It’s born of the “what’s next,” of the deeper understanding of what clients and prospects really need.
To put it plainly, it’s difficult to innovate enough to disrupt an industry if you’re only talking with—and, often, talking to—straight white males. For example, a recent report from the Peterson Institute revealed that almost one-third of companies globally have no—absolutely zero—women in C-suite or board positions. What’s even more telling, perhaps, is that half of them have no female top executives at all. That’s a shame for many reasons, especially when you consider that same report found a mere 30 percent female board representation could potentially add a substantial six percentage points to a business’ bottom line.
Women are clearly underrepresented in the enterprise, but so are minorities and other demographic groups. The city of Chicago recently examined this problem in-depth in a report commissioned by the group Chicago United. The study surveyed the top 50 businesses in the city based on earnings and found “stagnation in racial inclusion,” as African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics made up only nine percent of executive positions. This problem isn’t limited to just the Windy City—the lack of diversity is widespread.
Just ask PepsiCo exec Brad Jakeman, an outspoken advocate for diversity in workplaces and in advertising. In a fascinating interview with AdNews, Jakeman pointed to ad agencies as one of the “worst offenders when it comes to straight white male syndrome.”
According to Jakeman, the diversity of internal teams is critical to any business that wants to be disruptive. Many, though, are failing—and he doesn’t sugarcoat the side effects of that cultural apathy:
“In most cases we are sourcing talent from largely the same pools we have for the last 50 years. We’re creating these homogenous groups of people. I’m here to tell you that innovation and disruption does not come from homogenous groups of people. Quite the opposite. They come from collections of people with different life experiences coming together with a different perspective on the world. Different ages, races, sexual orientations trying to solve a problem from a different standpoint,” Jakeman said.
When will it get better? Sadly, 23 percent of business leaders say they expect no change in diversity in the makeup of senior leadership over the next five years. Their loss—I’m betting those organizations won’t be disrupting their industries any time soon.
When your customers and prospects demand diversity, how does your organization stack up? It’s an important question to ask if you want to move your business forward.
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