Industry the May 2018 issue

The I’s Have It

Inclusion and innovation are inextricably linked and immensely powerful.
By Kacie Conroy Posted on April 30, 2018

According to a study by Deloitte, “Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business statistically outperform their peers.” In fact, multiple studies conducted across different organizations all came to the same conclusion. Global research analyst Josh Bersin reports that companies with high inclusion and diversity rankings reap the rewards. They saw 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee (over three years) and were 2.9 times more likely to identify and build leaders, 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready and 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.

Why is this? I believe it has to do with the intersection of diversity, inclusion and innovation.

Many often think of inclusion and innovation as two separate initiatives. However, after working on inclusion and innovation concurrently over the past year, one thing has become evident to me: the overlap and connectedness between these two areas is not only important, it is necessary.

Innovation requires a culture of openness that fosters dialog across various experiences and backgrounds. That same foundation of openness helps create an inclusive environment for diverse hiring. This is the intersection of inclusion and innovation and the very reason that the two must be combined. Together, they can bring a diverse group together and foster open collaboration and critical thinking for robust problem solving.

Inclusive Hiring

So how do you build a more diverse and inclusive workforce? One way is to look at your recruiting practices and consider widening the net. Look at which organizations you connect with at a given college and rethink your requirements for that list. Recruit with innovation in mind, looking for skill sets like curiosity, creativity and a history of “innovative successes,” says William Craig, who writes about company culture in Forbes. In addition to considering a candidate’s educational background and work experience, know what you can teach versus what skill sets are required (e.g., detail-oriented) from the beginning.

Review your job postings to ensure they reflect only the necessary skill sets. Be careful not to over articulate what the job requires. You might think you are doing potential candidates a favor. However, studies have shown that some candidates will opt out of applying when they do not meet all the listed requirements and word choice. Lean In, an organization that works to empower women, cites that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications whereas women apply only if they meet 100% of them. Textio, a software company that uses analytics to optimize job descriptions, has found that word choice can be gender biased, limiting the audience it reaches. To address this problem, Textio assesses job postings and offers feedback on layout and language for optimal performance.

It’s no secret that recruiting in the insurance industry is challenging, and many admit they came to the industry by accident. But we can speed up the crossover into insurance by reaching out to a wide market early on. I discovered this accidentally when I created a Girls in IT program (GET IT: Girls Educating Themselves about Information Technology) to educate middle-school aged girls about IT careers. In addition to starting early, I found that describing the career in a simple and relatable way and focusing on the skill sets involved were also helpful. For example, by having a one-hour conversation about all possible IT careers, we increased interest in the field by a whopping 75%. By focusing on skill sets, you will connect with your candidates and help them find a path that is successful for both themselves and the agency. Focusing too heavily on job descriptions can result in candidates self-selecting out of a given role or industry for a lack of connection.

But a company can only truly be inclusive and diverse over time if it creates a culture of awareness, understanding and openness. You may be able to hire diverse talent, but in order to keep those hires, you have to foster a culture of inclusion. Upper management support, employee resources groups (voluntary, employee-led groups to foster diversity and inclusion, like Women’s BRGs [business resource groups], LGBTQ BRGs), and diversity training programs are just a few examples of what is necessary to create a foundation of inclusion. It should be noted that the effectiveness of diversity training programs is the subject of much debate.

However, I believe the key is finding the right training that focuses on unconscious bias, cultural sensitivity, appreciating individuality, and ways to communicate about diversity-related topics.

Inclusion Brings Innovation

To innovate, a culture of inclusion is necessary. According to research done by The Conference Board, “Inclusive cultures are four times more likely to be innovative.” But how do you create a corporate culture of innovation in an industry founded on risk mitigation? That is a common question and a common myth. Innovation is not the result of taking risks but, rather, in mitigating risks.

Here is where the IT industry can be helpful. Iterative development, known by its several variations of Agile, Lean Startup, or Scrum to name a few, is a concept the insurance industry can borrow that the IT industry has been laying out and perfecting over the past two decades. These methodologies all share the same core concepts. Work is done in short segments with end deliverables shared and tested along the way.

Feedback is expected, and a high degree of open communication is necessary for success. Being active in the build process makes it easy (and less expensive) to incorporate changes along the way rather than waiting until a project is fully complete. 

The days of “build it and then they will come” are over. The new normal of instituting change includes constant collaboration, sharing and feedback—including from your end users. This approach will not only validate if a change is beneficial but also provide further insight into the needs and other considerations for your work. Ultimately, this approach creates a new closeness between parties and fosters a strong connection with your end users, who will feel connected to the product because you incorporated their feedback. Additionally, bringing them into the process highlights all the work that goes into building a product or service, creating a mutual understanding and appreciation.

When forging ahead, recognize that a single person alone cannot cultivate change in an organization. Indeed, there must be a leader to head up communications, oversee the governance of projects, and manage the budget. However, building a corporate culture of innovation is the cumulative result of working with a diverse group within your organization, which starts with establishing an inclusive workplace. In fact, a study done by decision-making platform Cloverpop shows that inclusive teams make 87% better decisions two times faster with half the meetings.

…building a corporate culture of innovation is the cumulative result of working with a diverse group within your organization…

When looking to build your innovation team and change agents, there is a community right within your organization that can help. Enter the “intrapreneur.” The term—launched back in 1987 by an economist—is largely new to the insurance world but is now experiencing newfound interest as a recruiting tactic. An intrapreneur is a person who behaves like an entrepreneur within an organization, typically characterized by taking risks and innovating to solve problems. To cultivate innovation in your organization, locate those intrapreneurs who thrive on change, are curious and think creatively to establish a foundation of innovation. Not only does this serve as an inclusive practice by giving a non-traditional group the opportunity to drive change, but it also gives your employees the ownership and autonomy to create and experiment, offering new meaning to their job. Utilize this movement within your organization to help with your recruiting efforts. New hires to your organization will see this as a differentiator and a draw.

With matters of inclusion and innovation, it is all about striving for progress, not perfection, because with continued and consistent progress, we will have the most impact.

Conroy is IT manager at M3 Insurance and Inclusion and Diversity Committee chair.

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