Blog 31 Jul 2023 

How more inclusive workplaces can breed innovation

Why do we need an inclusive and diverse ecosystem to drive innovation? Matthew Herbert, Head of Marketing and Communications shares his insights.

Matthew Herbert

Matthew Herbert

Head of Marketing Communications

Striving for inclusive workplaces is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for businesses. Why? Because inclusivity fuels diversity, and that’s what breeds innovation.

Most people understand the importance of an inclusive workplace. Who wouldn’t want to work somewhere that makes them feel like they belong? Research supports this gut instinct. According to Gallup, people who work in inclusive workplaces feel more engaged and have higher levels of wellbeing.

But the benefits go even further. In fact, inclusivity is not just good for employees — It’s also good for business. Why? Because research suggests that more inclusive workplaces breed innovation. Like this 2019 analysis of 450 global companies which revealed that more inclusive workplaces were more likely to be industry innovators. 

Let’s take a closer look at the connection, starting with some definitions.

What is inclusion in the workplace?

Inclusion is a culture that makes people feel welcome, where they’re respected for who they are, and valued for the unique attributes they bring.

It’s often used interchangeably with the term diversity. But while the differences between the two are subtle, they are important. Diversity refers to those represented in a workforce: are there people of all ages, races, genders and physical abilities, to name just a few forms of diversity? Inclusion refers to a culture and environment that allows a diverse group of people to feel welcome and thrive. 

What is innovation?

Innovation is the art, science or process of developing better solutions from existing inventions and ideas.

It is the validation and exploration of ideas that others may have missed, rejected or long forgotten. Innovation connects the dots to transform those ideas into valuable products or services.

How are inclusion and innovation connected?

There is a growing body of research that suggests more inclusive workplaces can foster a culture of innovation.

For example, a study by the University of Chicago found that diverse and inclusive teams generate greater sales revenue, attract more customers, and create a higher market share. The reason: progress and innovation depend less on lone thinkers with high intelligence than on diverse groups working together and capitalising on their individuality,” which is precisely the type of situation inclusive workplaces help create.

The process of innovation also requires people to put themselves in uncomfortable situations, and inclusive environments make it more likely that employees will do this. Researchers at the London School of Economics found that When members of an organisation trust each other and feel valued, they are more likely to take risks and share ideas, which is essential to the innovation process.” 

Finally, given that inclusive policies can help retain a diverse workforce, inclusive workplaces ensure there is a deep reserve of new ideas, which is essential for companies to be innovative. 

How can companies create an inclusive workplace?

So how can companies create an inclusive environment? As a pioneering social enterprise that connects the dots within the innovation ecosystem, it’s something that we’ve thought about a lot. Here are a few things that we’ve learned:

1. Involve everyone

At CPI, we’ve found that establishing D&I affinity groups that are led by our people helps to create a culture of understanding and fosters the type of psychologically safe environment where innovation thrives. For example, we have groups related to religion, culture and ethnicity as well as disability, hidden conditions, and carers. 

Our practices have been developed and inspired by grounded research, such as that which suggests more engaged leadership teams can create a culture of innovation. But it won’t work if it’s only a top-down push. Indeed, academics at the University of Helsinki have found that when companies go out of their way to ensure a range of stakeholders are involved in projects, this fosters innovation.

2. Be deliberate about creating an inclusive workplace

Inclusivity can’t just be a box-ticking exercise. Creating a workplace where people’s diverse experiences, backgrounds and thoughts are celebrated is an ongoing and immersive process. 

At CPI, we call this conscious inclusion. It comes to life through things like regular staff surveys, our bright ideas” forums and development activities. The goal is simple: consciously working to create an environment where everyone is heard and feels a sense of belonging. 

3. Hold yourself accountable

Corporate leaders have been talking about inclusion for a long time. And yet, when Harvard Business Review asked its readers whether they thought their companies were inclusive, 65% of respondents said no. To prevent this kind of disconnect, companies should put in place systems to track their progress.

For example, in 2022, CPI signed an inclusivity in innovation charter. It not only allows us to publicly demonstrate our commitment to fostering inclusion – it also provides us with a clear framework for how we can measure the progress we’re making.

Inclusivity is at the heart of CPI

Inclusivity is at the heart of everything we do at CPI, so we’ve seen first-hand how inclusive workplaces can be a hotbed for creativity, allowing great ideas to flourish. And without great ideas, there’s no innovation.

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