Our office is busy preparing for the Grace Hopper Celebration (10 days left!), and I am focusing on prepping my remarks for a panel on the business case for diversity. Beryl Nelson from Google and Mani Abrol from Lexity Labs have brought the concept of this successful panel from Grace Hopper India, and we have fantastic executives participating: Alan Eustace, Google, Kathy Hill, Cisco, Mike Shroepfer, Facebook, Mark Bregman, Neustar, and Tayloe Stansbury, Intuit.
The question of the business case for diversity comes up in many of my conversations with industry colleagues. The good news is, there is a slew of social science research that shows that diversity, along multiple dimensions, leads to better decision-making, better innovation outcomes, better team dynamics, and yes, greater market share and revenues. The research is important, but these days I am especially interested in the concrete examples that bring this point home. How does diversity help innovation? What are the consequences of not having a diverse set of voices when designing a product, a new technology, or a service?
One interesting recent example came from a study by researchers from the University of Minnesota, Nankai University, Carleton College, and Macalester College. Women are about 15% of the contributors of Wikipedia, an imbalance that the Wikimedia Foundation is working to address http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/business/media/31link.html). Beyond the discrepancy in representation, Tony Lam and his colleagues looked at what impact this imbalance has on the content of Wikipedia and found that the topics of interest to female audiences suffer from a lack of coverage and are shorter than those topics that typically interest men. Movies popular with a male audience, for example, get more coverage on Wikipedia than movies popular to a female audience. In other words, Wikipedia’s quality as a product is affected by its gender imbalance.
Another example, which was showcased at our panel at Grace Hopper India last year, is how Nokia tied its internal diversity efforts with the desire to increase its market share with women consumers and have more successful phone features for both men and women. The concept of “gender bilingualism” is now being integrated into their innovation process, paying attention to women’s representation in design, testing, and among consumers.
When I talk about the business case, I also like to emphasize that gender equality matters to more than dollar returns – social returns are critical to consider. Consider medical research – when the medical profession suffered from an underrepresentation of women, the question of whether women would respond differently to treatment was not posed. Only recently, with the increased participation of women in medicine, did treatments specific to women’s health needs emerge. Women are still underrepresented in clinical trials when it comes to diseases that are non specific to women such as heart disease. I don’t know about you, but I would feel better knowing that whatever treatment my doctor is recommending works for women.
What are some examples you have encountered of how having women engaged with innovation benefits users, marketshare, design, or society? We look forward to hearing your examples for the panel!