Gender diversity and innovation

I recently read an interesting article about the World Economic Forum, where it called out the lack of female participation at this premier meeting. As a woman working in the IT industry, I have been accustomed to being in the minority at most conferences. The example of Davos, where our global leaders are coming together to solve some really tough problems, is one more instance of missed opportunity for truly innovative thinking.

There are a number of studies which suggest that diverse perspectives increase innovation, productivity and competitiveness:

  • In a recent study by NCWIT, research shows that teams comprising both women and men produce IT patents that are cited 26–42 percent more often than the norm for similar types of patents.
  • In a London Business School study of more than 100 teams at 21 companies, teams with equal numbers of women and men were more likely (than teams of any other composition) to experiment, be creative, share knowledge and fulfill tasks.
  • Additional studies indicate that teams comprising diverse members consistently outperform teams comprising “highest-ability” members.

These are but a few of the research studies available which touch upon this topic, most resulting in the conclusion that having diverse teams and perspectives increases creativity and innovation.

Interestingly enough, this holds true regardless of the type of diversity being looked at: gender, ethnic, geographical, generational, area of expertise and so on. In most idea jams and workshops, for example, diversity has indeed proven to be a successful business component. Many organizers specifically invite individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to solve really tough problems. Not only is the discussion more lively, but the end result is usually better.

At my company we strive for diversity in all aspects of our mission. This includes our own staff (over 40% are women), students and faculty with whom we work at universities around the world, and our support of the Anita Borg Institute and Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. In addition, Dr. Carrie Gates recently received a “Women of Influence” award from the Executive Women’s Forum and CSO Magazine.

Certainly, we’re not the only research organization that puts diversity in the forefront. Many other companies, universities and organizations are focused on this issue and the opportunity it brings in terms of talent and innovation. Successful diversity programs include mentoring programs, networking opportunities, targeted recruiting, flexible work options, online communities and active sponsorship by senior executives, to name just a few. Good ideas come from everywhere. Let’s make sure we include all points of view, and we will all benefit.

Connie Smallwood is VP of Innovation and University Programs for CA Technologies. She leads and manages the innovation and thought leadership initiatives within the company. These include CA Technologies innovation and idea management programs, patent program, technical recognition events, and employee engagement initiatives. She also manages CA Technologies publishing programs, including CA Press. Connie joined CA Technologies from IBM Corporation, where she held a number of leadership positions in IBM's software, hardware and corporate divisions, including university relations, marketing and communications, interactive marketing, software development and information development.