New thinking is critical to innovative product development, but we only start thinking about things differently when we are challenged to do so.
The best product development teams contain different points of view, with these visions contributing to problem solving by sparking ideas and challenging individual concepts of the “norm”. This is why diversity should be at the heart of developing new technologies.
The world is a diverse place, with people of different gender identities, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, personality types, and sexuality. Unfortunately, this diversity isn’t reflected in the tech workforce. For example, in Australia, women make up less than a third of STEM university graduates and only 16% of the qualified STEM population.
There’s a clear disconnect between the diversity of the population and people who work in our industry. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. Combining people with different skills, experiences, and personalities creates fertile ground for innovative thinking, leading to imaginative new ideas and solutions. Diversity brings increased productivity, improved creativity and the addition of new cultural insights.
The outcome of all this isn’t just a warm and fuzzy feeling. According to McKinsey, the most diverse companies are more likely to outperform financially. The Grattan Institute has estimated that an extra 6% of women in the workforce could add $25 billion to Australia’s GDP.
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Conquering unconscious bias
Diversity in the workplace has provided me with an opportunity to learn and grow from all sorts of people. A one dimensional team dominated by a single gender, personality type, or culture, is inherently limited by unconscious bias and a narrow field of experience. Operating in an environment with people who hold a variety of viewpoints and life experiences creates a much stronger team.
Whilst the value of diversity cannot easily be measured, recent research from Harvard Business School found that normalisation of gender diversity in the workplace is linked to increased productivity, economic growth and the enhanced ability to attract talent and retain employees.
These findings are consistent with my experience across many companies and work environments. And for those fortunate enough to work within diverse STEM and STEM-adjacent teams, these positive outcomes need no explanation. Exposure to new perspectives and ideas paves the way for thinking about difficult problems in new ways, leading to higher levels of innovation.
In a landscape where we do not yet have enough female role models, it’s important for males to champion females. Throughout my professional life, I have had the support of many supportive male colleagues and managers who have helped me to realise my strengths and achieve my goals. This has been critical to my career development.
I am a firm believer in the concept that you can’t be what you can’t see. Female leaders in tech, as well as those from other under-represented groups must be seen and present for the many STEM graduates now treading the same path, as well as for future generations. These include my own two young daughters, whom I strive to raise free from bias regarding what anyone can do and achieve.
Passing the torch
Females in STEM need to be visible to schools and universities. My employer, Myriota supports its staff to do this as a part of HerTechPath – a briefing designed for girls to explore career options, presented by women in the tech industry. The hope is that it encourages young women to pursue a career in an industry that they wouldn’t previously have considered.
Diversity must also encompass more than gender. Hiring first generation migrants from different cultures can bring increased productivity, improved creativity and cultural insights. These cultural insights are extremely valuable for companies striving to go global.
By taking time to work with individual employees and understand their unique needs and challenges, employers can send a message that all are valued and heard. This leads to better results for both employees and the company as a whole. Whilst few organisations can offer the ideal working environment for every employee, even small steps towards that ideal is taking benefits in the right direction.
The Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said it best: “Humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”