Commentary

Diversity Delivers Innovation

Do a computer search for “diversity and innovation,” and you will get page after page of articles on the correlation between the two. Different industries are trying new ways to push for diversity to spark innovation.

The Austin Business Journal recently ran a column about a prominent venture capitalist, Stephen Straus, who created The Startup Diversity and Inclusion Pledge. Its purpose is to get some different ideas into Austin’s boardrooms and to give underrepresented groups like women, minorities and LGBT in the tech space a chance at startup capital. 

Marketers could learn a lesson here. We’re not very reflective of the audiences we are trying to influence, according to a report published last fall by the Association of National Advertisers.

The study, which focused on ANA members, found women dominated U.S.-based marketing departments, at 63% female and 37% male. Despite that heavy skew toward women, men still hold the majority of senior-level positions in those departments at 54%, with 46% of women having senior-level roles.

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The study called ethnic diversity in the industry “poor.” Only 7% of the marketing roles in the U.S.-based marketing departments are held by African-Americans and 7% by Hispanics. According to a study of CMOs conducted by the ANA at the same time, African-Americans have 3% of those jobs, while Hispanics hold 5%. African-Americans hold 4% of the senior level positions and Hispanics have 9%.

There have been efforts by organizations like the American Association of Advertising Agencies to bring more diversity into the industry, but that has been concentrated at entry level. A lack of diversity at the higher echelons keeps diverse talent from climbing the ladder, so too often talented people leave the industry, which is compounding the lack of reflecting multicultural consumers in advertising.

A lack of diversity at the top results in monolithic views of the world, generalizing, missing niche opportunities, or even insensitivity to other cultures or beliefs. These manifest into companies that don’t function as well or as profitably as they could with a more diverse workforce. The research supports these ideas.

  • A 2015 report by McKinsey & Company Inc. found companies that had a more racially and ethnically diverse workforce “were 35% more likely” to outperform their industry for financial returns.
  • A 2014 report in Scientific Americancited “decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and demographers” showing groups that were diverse in race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation were more innovative.

As marketers, we’re in the innovation business. We are constantly looking for new ways to engage audiences and influence behavior. As the populace becomes more diverse, the companies that reflect that diversity will have the edge over those that don’t. And the proof will be in the results — and sales — we generate.

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