Innovation at Work

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Diversity in STEM

Innovation at Work

For STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries especially, research shows that teams comprised of individuals with a greater variety of backgrounds and experiences can produce more innovative and creative ideas.

In an article published in Scientific American, Katherine W. Phillips, senior vice dean at Columbia Business School, explains that a concept known as “informational diversity” is key to understanding why diversity has such a positive effect. Simply put, when a group of individuals is tasked with solving a problem, each person brings with them a different set of experiences, opinions and backgrounds.

“The same logic applies to social diversity,” Phillips says. “People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist — and that is a good thing.”

Perhaps more importantly, diversity also has the ability to change behavior. According to Phillips, because members of a homogeneous group are typically confident that they share each other’s beliefs, they will likely be able to reach a consensus and agree on a more standard or expected solution. However, if a group realizes that there exist social differences among them, this creates the expectation that compromise will be harder to come by. While these situations may require more work to iron out disagreements, often they lead to improved outcomes.

However, just having a diverse workforce does not magically produce better and more creative results. “Most organizations have a surplus of creative ideas that are never implemented,” Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author and chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, said in an article published in the Harvard Business Review. “More diversity is not going to solve this problem.”

Instead, Chamorro-Premuzic argues that having effective leadership and management is critical to not only transform creative ideas into actionable results, but also to help navigate natural disagreements that arise during the collaboration process.

For innovation to occur in the workplace, it must therefore be embraced by the entirety of the organization.  


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