The Journal Gazette
Sunday, April 08, 2018 1:00 am

Financial - and social - payoff

Diversified workplace, especially in upper echelons, has been proven worth the risk

Crystal Vann Wallstrom

My move from San Francisco to Fort Wayne, in most ways, was an easy transition. People often comment about how much of a cultural change it must be, but, really, it hasn't been hard at all. Fort Wayne is very welcoming; the city is vibrant, and the momentum is palpable. I am proud to live here.

That said, there are a few things that stand out as noticeably different from San Francisco. The first? The lack of gender and racial diversity in the workplace, especially at the leadership level.

I know that local business leaders want to improve these statistics, and I'm here to share my case as to why you should prioritize this diversity. The data don't lie.

In an article entitled “How Diversity Can Drive Innovation” published in the December 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall and Laura Sherbin break diversity into two categories: inherent (things you are born with) and acquired (those gained from experience). They call having both types of diversity “2-D.” The article summarizes a study that correlates 2-D diversity with a company's ability to innovate. Not surprisingly, “Employees of firms with 2-D diversity are 45 percent likelier to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70 percent likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.”

If you caught NPR's “1A” on Monday, you heard Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence” and the recently released “The Excellence Dividend,” talk about the value women bring to the workplace, especially in buying power and in the boardroom.

McKinsey & Company's 2018 study, “Delivering Through Diversity,” found a “correlation between diversity at the executive level and not just profitability but also value creation. Those companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 27 percent more likely to outperform their national industry average in terms of economic profit – a measure of a company's ability to create value exceeding its capital cost – than were bottom-quartile companies” and “those with the greatest proportion of women on their executive committees earned a return on equity 47percent higher than those with no female executive members.”

Why, you might ask? Because women think differently. It is this inherent diversity of thought that leads to a broader, more diverse range of approaches, solutions and tactics. The report also found that when women participate at this level in the global economy, they will generate additional GDP worth $28 trillion by 2025. That amount is roughly equivalent to the size of the Chinese and U.S. economies combined.

And that's just amplifying diversity in gender. Add other inherent and acquired diversity and think of the potential for economic and social growth our region, and the world, could experience.

The call to action is this: At your next meeting, strategy session, business outing or community engagement event, take a moment to evaluate the diversity that is or isn't present. Then decide what you can do to invite more diverse voices to the table.

Changing the status quo is hard work. It takes longer and is naturally more difficult than sticking with what you have. It requires a willingness to challenge your existing thinking, to be inclusive beyond your normal comfort and to honestly evaluate your blind spots. There is risk there. But the data show that the return on that risk is likely very high.

Crystal Vann Wallstrom is managing director of innovation at Electric Works and founder of Rabbit Hole Ventures.

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