Tapping into diversity could solve your business problems

When it comes to leveraging a diverse range of opinions in order to come up with great ideas, it’s not only about having men and women in the room.

But it’s certainly a good start to have both halves of the population involved. It’s step one in breaking down a stale and homogenous culture before broadening the pool of other characteristics and traits required to truly innovate.

At a roundtable on gender diversity at the University of Technology Sydney this morning, Procter & Gamble managing director Maile Carnegie outlined just how essential the gender mix has been for innovation in her organisation.

She told the story of how Deb Henretta, the first female president of one of the company’s baby care businesses, was able to personally overhaul a nappy product using her own eye and personal experience. “The amount of focus that had gone into the technical and engineering aspects of the nappy was phenomenal. Nothing would leak out. It was a marvel!” said Carngeie.

“But when she looked at it with different eyes, she saw it was ugly and noisy, there was tape on the side that would literally give you paper cuts.” Henretta, came up with a better and more successful solution.

“Just having a diverse view on any business problem will typically mean at Procter & Gamble that you will get a much better and creative solution,” said Carnegie. “We will not succeed in the future without a steady stream of innovation … Diversity is one of those less talked about but critical aspects for innovation.”

Looking at innovation, and its consequences on productivity, as a key benefit of gender diversity shows we’re moving on from gender diversity being “the right thing to do”. As KPMG CEO Geoff Wilson noted, there’s been a serious evolution in diversity conversations. “It started with women talking to women, then it was women talking to men and now it’s men talking to men,” he said. “It’s pretty powerful. It’s happening at a time when more men are actually listening to the conversation today.”

Gender diversity is not just “the right thing to do,” added Wilson, “it’s the smart thing to do”. Organisations that still do not yet get it will find themselves missing out: not only will they continue to lose their best talent, but also some of their best ideas.

And with the number of women starting small businesses in Australia, plenty of organisations have already lost great ideas. When chief executive of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce Yolanda Vega was asked why women are leaving the corporate world to launch new start-ups, she gave the audience a simple response: “Because they can.”

Asked to expand, she noted that these women are highly educated with the global village at their fingertips and a range of tools available that previous generations never had.

Fed up with the corporate environment, these women are keeping the best ideas for themselves and reaping plenty of rewards along the way: they get to be their own boss, work their own hours and avoid the corporate office they escaped.

“If we [corporates] want the innovation, we need to start taking action now or it’s going to continue to lead to this brain drain,” said Vega.

This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.

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