What got us out of the Covid era? Of course, there was the everyday heroism of millions of people. But there was also innovation – in ways of working and technologies – which reached its highest point when Dame Sarah Gilbert and her team at Oxford University developed a vaccine. That was soon rolled out, restrictions were rolled back, and we were able to emerge from a difficult period and return to something like normal life. Innovation made the key difference. Because in turbulent times, existing tools, techniques and technologies are not always enough. Something new has to be brought into being. And now, we find ourselves in another of those times. The war in Ukraine rages on, there’s economic turmoil and a cost-of-living crisis, and the climate emergency shows no signs of ending any time soon. All this points to a need for innovation. It’s the key to helping companies ride out the storm.

But this is unlikely to happen without more gender diversity in tech, which has been the main source of the most exciting and far-reaching innovation of the past few years. Why? Because there is a close connection between diversity and creation. When different people combine their unique perspectives and experiences, remarkable things happen. And a wealth of evidence, anecdotal and formal, bears this out. Boston Consulting Group, for example, surveyed more than 1,700 people in eight different countries to understand the impact that a diverse leadership team had on the rest of a given business. They looked at six different dimensions of diversity and then the percentage of total company revenue that came from new products and services launched over the previous three years. What they found was a clear correlation between the diversity of the management team and innovation. Companies that said they had above-average diversity at the leadership level also said they had revenue from innovation that was 19 percentage points higher than that of the companies which had below-average leadership diversity. It was 45 percent of total revenue versus just 26 percent. BCG found the evidence so compelling that they described boosting diversity as a ‘slam dunk’ for management teams.

So diverse teams produce more ideas and better ideas. But they also make more money. Diversity has a key part to play in generating revenue, and revenue is key not just during economics, but to promoting innovation. Research and development, whether undertaken formally or informally in companies, costs money. But diverse teams don’t just make more money through innovation. They make more money full stop. This year, a report published in Research and Markets showed that diverse companies earned 2.5 times more revenue per employee, and inclusive teams were more productive by more than 35 percent. The survey, which looked at 120 companies including global powerhouses like Delotte and PwC, concluded that ‘Companies with more diverse teams and inclusiveness are better able to lead change than those with a more homogeneous workforce.’

Of course, diversity doesn’t just mean gender diversity. It includes age, educational experience, background, country of origin, sexuality and more. These matter hugely, and the truly ambitious businesses will be looking at how to increase representation across the board. But despite amazing progress in the last 10 years, tech is notorious for its gender gap – something that makes itself crystal clear to see in AI bias. So we can say with a lot of confidence that gender diversity alone will have a marked effect on absolute diversity, and that will be reflected in more revenue and more innovation – as well as a happier workforce.

The good news is that difficult times often spur innovation. Companies want to reduce risk, maximise routines, and improve resilience and adaptability. Legacy systems are upgraded or swapped out for more sophisticated versions, new ways of working – such as hybrid or remote working – are considered, and digitalisation is pursued across the board. Problems with the existing approach to things are seen as opportunities by solution-minded entrepreneurs. Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Airbnb, and Slack were all founded during a recession. (In fact, half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded during a crisis.) So we can be sure there’s an upside to the difficulties we’re facing.

But for real, enduring, inclusive innovation to happen, we need more women in tech. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that women make up only 25 percent of the workforce in the tech industry. The gap is even wider at the executive level, where women hold only 11 percent of leadership positions. Companies serious about developing the kinds of tools and technologies that will make a real difference at this time should first take a critical look at their structure, their ways of communicating, their hiring practices, and their representation across the board. Those that do stand to benefit. 

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