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How Diversity Fuels Innovation

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Editor's Note: This blog is authored by Intel's Sandra Lopez who is the Director of Strategic Alliances for Intel-based Wearables.

There’s been a lot of attention lately on the topic of diversity: in society, in the workplace, in business, and—particularly for women—in the technology industry. As a woman who’s made her career in tech, I’ve certainly felt a major shift in attitudes over the years—both in others and also personally.

When I first started in the industry, I was always conscious of not wanting to stand out for anything but my work. Determined to fit in and get along as “just one of the guys,” I didn’t want anyone making an issue of my gender—and I certainly would never make it an issue myself. But over the years, I’ve gradually recognized that, as a woman, I bring unique—and valuable—perspectives to the projects I’m working on.

Working on MICA

A perfect example is MICA (My Intelligent Communication Accessory), a connected bracelet designed for the socially connected woman in partnership with Opening Ceremony—a leading fashion house and retailer.

I’m proud that my involvement in the project has helped to shape both the design and functionality of the final product. I recall early exploratory conversations where I’d explain to mostly male colleagues that many women, unlike most men, don’t keep their phones in instantly accessible pant or jacket pockets, where every beep is heard or vibration felt. By contrast, women—who often keep their phones in purses—frequently experience considerable delays in receiving communications that most men would receive nearly instantly. I remember telling my colleagues: “You know those moments when you try to reach your wife, and she doesn’t answer her phone—well it’s probably because the phone is in her purse.” They smiled in newfound appreciation for the problem statement.

The ideal smart bracelet experience for women, then, would provide easily accessible “glanceable” content—like important emails, a babysitter’s text message, or fashion news. And it would do all this while looking and feeling like a genuine piece of jewelry—something I’d actually buy at Barneys New York.

What resulted was a jewelry piece that’s at the forefront of the wearable tech device era, which converges fashion and technology—integrating a woman’s luxury accessory with technology features and functionality that complement and enhance a woman’s work and social life. While the team always had ambitious goals, I could never have imagined an Intel technology-based wearable being covered in Vogue. So it was a pleasant surprise when I recently found myself reading about MICA in the fashion magazine’s April 2015 issue.

This is just one personal example of how companies benefit when they are inclusive and welcoming of diverse perspectives—but there are many others.

The business case for diversity

The business case for companies to be more inclusive of women has been well documented in recent years—and has only grown more compelling. According to Forbes, women globally control $20 trillion in annual consumer spending—and this number continues to grow. Women are responsible for 80 percent of all consumer spending—and have been for a long time. So it’s becoming increasingly essential for businesses of all types to have diverse voices within the company that truly grasp this huge market opportunity, in all its complexities.

By the same token, on the employment side, there’s been plenty of data demonstrating that equitable workforce diversity leads to higher business profitability. According to a recent report byCatalyst (“The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards”), Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors achieved significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation of women board directors. Moreover, the report reveals notably stronger-than-average performance at companies with three or more women board directors.

Why diversity makes a difference

Having a diverse workforce across all business functions and levels of authority is important (and profitable) for two primary reasons. First, diversity contributes significantly to innovation. A room full of diverse perspectives fuels creativity, drives thought-provoking conversations, challenges prevailing perspectives, and offers a new approach to solutions for vexing problems. Imagine the collective creative intelligence in a room full of diverse individuals versus that of a room full of sameness.

Secondly, a diverse workforce reflects—and gives companies better insights—into their increasingly diverse customer base. As globalized markets have expanded participation among diverse populations, having individuals within your organization that truly understand your varied customers—their culture, values, ideas, and thinking—will necessarily make your organization more effective.

The last word

I always tell people that it’s a privilege to be a woman in today’s business environments. We are transforming the workforce, bringing unique perspectives, and ultimately helping companies become more successful. We should be fearless about speaking up, having a seat at the table, highlighting the micro-inequities we sometimes face, and ultimately fighting for the next generations to follow.
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