The Overlooked Secret to Innovation
By Samira Abdul-Karim, Associate Consultant, Learning and Inclusion
In our rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt and change is critical. To help us change we innovate to ensure our businesses are competitive, sustainable and relevant. But it’s not enough to have one great idea. A key ingredient to attaining these goals is to create a culture of innovation.
The most innovative organizations hire the best and brightest, invest in robust R&D initiatives, drive success through metrics and rewards, and employ sophisticated technology to create a culture of innovation. Yet one essential, direct and often-overlooked approach to increasing innovation is developing a culture of inclusion.
How does Inclusion fit in?
Catalyst research shows that the more people feel included, the more innovative they can be . But before we talk any further about inclusion benefits, it’s important to clarify what we mean by inclusion. Distinguishing diversity from inclusion is necessary since the two are often conflated. If diversity is defined as differences, inclusion is what you do with those differences. Having diversity is important. However, learning how to leverage that diversity to create business results is the difference between making diversity an asset or a challenge in your organization. Inclusion can be that bridge.
A survey of employees in six different countries has shown that when people feel included there is an increase in both team citizenship (going above and beyond the call of duty) and innovation (introducing new ideas, processes, or products). Across these countries the average increase is between 42 and 46 percent. Consider the impact in your organization of having employees 46% more engaged and ready to contribute. Or having 42% more new ideas to improve products or processes. Imagine what could be accomplished or created with these inclusion benefits!
So, how do you do it?
Prepare Your Leaders
Leaders and managers in organizations are critical to creating and sustaining a culture of engagement. By preparing them to be inclusive leaders you can have an impact throughout the body of your organization.
Developing new ideas is a risky business fraught with the potential for rejection and failure. The threat of being reprimanded, isolated, or worse keeps employees from taking risks, experimenting, failing and learning from their mistakes. The impact can be that new ideas and process improvements remain stifled beneath the surface held down by fear, doubt and uncertainty.
Inclusive leaders create psychological safety (confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up). They create this safety on their teams by demonstrating empowerment, accountability, courage and humility (EACH). These leadership competencies are what Catalyst has dubbed the “EACH Mindset.” The sense of safety that the EACH Mindset creates is important for a learning environment, and it is a critical driver of innovation.
Learn from the best.
One of America’s top universities, is taking on this challenge by developing their employees to be more inclusive. They want to create a culture of innovation where people can take risks in a safe environment. Sarah Staley, Senior Organizational Development Consultant at Harvard University’s Center for Workplace Development says,
“We are invested as a university in increasing engagement, fostering innovation, and making a more inclusive workplace, and, at the Center for Workplace Development, we have been offering a variety of programs related to engagement and innovation using BlessingWhite’s X model of engagement and “great days at work” concepts. We want to continue to train our leaders in skills for cultivating engagement, inclusion, and innovation and we are excited about blending best practices from BlessingWhite with Catalyst’s research-driven approach. The Leading with Inclusion curriculum provided the content, exercises, and grounding in research that we were looking to incorporate into our offerings.”
In addition to increasing the likelihood of innovation, inclusion brings other benefits including:
- Improved productivity
- Increased engagement levels
- Decreased turnover
- Higher customer satisfaction
- Better financial performance
- And…a better place to work! 
As you think about how to encourage innovation, ask yourself, “Am I inviting diverse opinions? Am I providing people with a safe space to take chances?” In short, “Am I being inclusive?” Creating a culture of inclusion is a proven way to dial up innovation when tackling workplace challenges . This inclusion benefits formula works in corporations, start-ups and universities alike.
When considering how to tackle your next workplace challenge, consider the oft-overlooked secret to innovation—inclusion!
 Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth R. Salib, Inclusive Leadership: The View From Six Countries (Catalyst, 2014)
 Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth R. Salib, The Secret to Inclusion in Australian Workplaces: Psychological Safety (Catalyst, 2015)
 From: Catalyst, Why Diversity Matters (2013)