Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives Are Incomplete Without This Essential Dimension

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Even when it comes to sole proprietorships, entrepreneurship is rarely a solo effort. Ask any successful business owner how he or she got started or what contributed to his or her growth, and he or she will likely cite the input and support of others. That was definitely the case for me. As the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.”

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However, it is more than a saying. It’s science. A growing body of research shows that groups outperform individuals working independently. Additionally, groups representing a range of different perspectives outperform those with similar, albeit demonstrably superior, capabilities.

In The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies University of Michigan researcher Scott Page summarizes this principle in three words: “Diversity trumps skills.” He also uses quantitative and qualitative data to show how a diverse workforce leads to higher-performing organizations. The key is divergent thinking.

Different backgrounds bring multiple solutions

A few years ago I attended a conference where a speaker made this clear to me. He said if several people are sitting around a conference table (or, more likely, getting together virtually today) trying to solve a problem, and they all look basically the same, act the same, and have the same general education and experience, they’re likely to be doing a similar one Find solution. It may or may not be a good solution. But either way, it will come from a shared perspective. In this scenario there are two heads not definitely better than one.

Now consider whether each person at the table has a different background. You would probably get multiple solutions. From there, the group was able to distill the strongest elements from each and eventually come to a solution that no a of them could have decided it themselves – and most of the time this solution would have been better.

This is the driving premise behind many of the Corporate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that many companies, large and small, have developed or enhanced in recent years. But these initiatives can fall short if they define diversity too narrowly. While typically associated with differences in race, ethnicity, and gender, diversity actually encompasses the full range of human identities. And as one of the country’s largest minorities — comprising some 61 million adults — people with disabilities are an important voice at the proverbial table.

See also: 7 ways leaders can improve their DEI workplace strategy

The most valuable skill an employee can offer: adaptability

through my company Concepts, Inc., and our many years of work in support of government agencies and non-profit organizations in the field of disability employment policy – and I have benefited from this in my own work practice. The last two years have only confirmed that the most valuable skill an employee can offer is adaptability. Now more than ever, businesses of all sizes need people who can adapt to different situations and circumstances. This is something people with disabilities do every day – and often their innovative thinking leads to far-reaching benefits. Again, it’s about thinking different.

Just think about it. Did you use email today? Its origins stem in part from the frustration of a hard-of-hearing researcher communicating with other researchers across the country by voice over the phone. There are many other examples – from curbs and automatic doors (essential when using a wheelchair but also helpful when towing a suitcase) to closed captioning on TV (essential when you’re deaf but also helpful when you’re are in a crowded restaurant).

These are just a few examples that point to the offers of Power Divergent Thinking in the workplace and thus also in the market. People with disabilities represent a large and growing population as life expectancy continues to increase and as many people develop disabilities as they age. As with any customer segment, one of the best ways for a company to tap into it is to ensure it is represented in its workforce.

Related Topics: Are you the DEI consultant your industry needs?

Disability inclusion also contributes to the bottom line

In fact, the bottom line is that there is a strong case for disability inclusion. According to a 2018 Accenture research study, 45 companies identified as leaders in disability inclusion saw 28% higher revenue, double net income and 30% higher commercial profit margins than their non-disability companies over a four-year period companies on the list. This study was conducted by Accenture in partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, a leading nonprofit resource for disability inclusion around the world.

There are also ways to increase the diversity of disabled people in the supply chain – by sourcing from Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (DOBEs) and Service-Disabled Veteran Disability-Owned Business Enterprises (SDV-DOBEs). Business owners interested in affiliating with DOBEs and SDV DOBEs – or wishing to be certified as such – can contact Disability:IN.

By taking action to improve the inclusion of people with disabilities—be it in the workplace, in the marketplace, in the supply chain, or in all of the above—businesses of all sizes can benefit from more perspectives on how to innovate in today’s increasingly diverse world be able to drive change. As with entrepreneurship itself, it is about “Out of the Box Thinking” – and thus a key dimension of diversity.

See also: 10 reasons why a DEI coach is good for business

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