March 9, 2016

Innovation Driver: Making the Business Case for Diversity

By Leah Wong, Novae Res Urbis

Companies have a bottom-line incentive to promote policies that encourage diversity—increasingly seen as a tool to spur innovation, say advocates.

“Demographic diversity brings along with it diversity of ideas, which is critical for driving innovation,” Ryerson University research and innovation vice-president Wendy Cukier told the Cities of Migration conference Wednesday.

Cukier said she’s seen a shift in recent years by business leaders to pay more attention than in the past to harnessing the power of diversity to promote corporate goals, be they global in nature or specific to Toronto.

That intensified commitment to diversity is true of Siemens Canada, according to president and CEO Robert Hardt, describing his company’s transition from its primary base in Germany to becoming a multinational corporation with a global footprint. Bringing together employees from diverse backgrounds can spark new ideas, he observed, encouraging the development of new services and products.

“When your market is global, the services and products you offer to the market also need to be global,” Hardt told the conference, with a diverse workforce seen as an asset in enabling the company to stay relevant. “The corporate world is changing very dramatically. We cannot [focus] just on the profit-side, we also have to contribute to the development of the communities we are active in.”

In addition, said Hardt, members of the millennial generation tends to have different attitudes to employment than their elders, placing a strong emphasis on working for a company that shares their values.

“We can only attract young people if the values we have in our company are shared by our employees and the communities we are active in,” said Hardt. “For me it is clear that diversity is not just something you have… it’s something we build our company on.”

Diversity within the workforce is only one way to drive innovation. Companies also need to assess the diversity of business relationships with clients and suppliers, the conference heard. RBC Royal Bank small business segment manager Angela White told the conference that companies can diversify their supply chain and increase innovation by explicitly developing relationships with those from different backgrounds and disciplines.

“One of the key ways immigrant talent drives innovation is actually through diversification in the supply chain,” said White. “We can all appreciate the benefits and diversity in thought… Being open to new ideas, new approaches and new ways of solving problems and avoiding groupthink.”

Posted with permission of the publisher of NRU Publishing Inc. Original article first appeared in Novae Res Urbis – Toronto Edition, Vol. 20, No. 9, Friday, March 4, 2016.

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