Diversity, Innovation, and Growth

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Today, I was a guest speaker at Professor Daniela Brancaforte’s class at Georgetown University. She teaches at the fascinating intersection between anthropology and entrepreneurship. As someone who views company culture as a competitive advantage — I connect very deeply with that topic.

During my guest lecture at Georgetown today, I posed a a simple question:

The central thesis of my lecture was that diversity can help us as individuals, corporations, and a national economy become more innovative and productive.

Diversity: Challenge or Opportunity?

I gave five examples to highlight what happens when businesses in America and abroad don’t take diversity seriously:

  • “Wells Fargo CEO ruffles feathers with comments about diverse talent” (NBC 2020)
  • “Papa John’s founder resigns as chairman after using a racial slur on a call” (Vox 2018)
  • “What’s behind China’s ‘racist’ whitewashing advert?” (BBC 2016)
  • “1% of venture-backed startup founders are Black. Here’s how one entrepreneur beat those odds” (Venture Beat 2018)

I then gave five examples to show how diversity can help individuals, corporations, and economies become more innovative and productive:

  • “How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas” (MIT Sloan 2015)
  • “Women-managed funds are outperforming as tech exposure pays off, Goldman finds” (CNBC 2020)
  • “Almost half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by American immigrants or their children” (Brookings 2017)
  • Research: Jim Crow & Patent Declines Among Blacks: 1,100 missing patents, 15% drop of economic activity. (“Violence and Economic Activity: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870 to 1940”, Dr. Lisa Cook 2012)

The argument I was making was essentially that diversity is a competitive advantage if prioritized and a competitive disadvantage when deprioritized.

Founders, managers, and staff all have a responsibility to make strong company cultures and diversity helps build strong company cultures. Not only diversity of perspective, but real demographic diversity. Everyone’s perspective is unique and those unique perspectives help contribute to innovative thinking.

Exercise: How to Source Better Hiring

I ended the lecture by having students by breaking up into groups and doing an exercise. The exercise was to imagine that they are working at a company that doesn’t have a diverse workforce. They were tasked with:

(1) Identifying a group they could try and increase candidates for

(2) Figuring out ways to expand targeted outreach campaigns to attract a diverse candidate pool.

In just a few minutes, the teams came up with some pretty creative ways to diversify their hypothetical company’s workforce.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. Hope the lecture and exercises were beneficial!

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Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University · CEO of Fifth Tribe | DC’s Digital Agency · Focus: Product Innovation & Digital Strategy

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