Let’s Democratize Innovation

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A commitment to inclusion is a strategic component in an organization’s ability to innovate, understand its customers, outperform the competition, and maximize employee productivity and engagement.

Put simply, diversity is not only good for business, it is good business, and it drives innovation. According to a recent report by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. A future that includes people from the widest range of backgrounds will pay economic and social dividends and be an essential component of the Intelligent Enterprise.

If the road to inclusion and diversity were simple or did not require intervention, we would already be there. Instead we must invest — with real and measurable actions — to increase inclusion. While intelligence is equally distributed in the population regardless of background or experience, opportunity is not. Discussions of the tech industry’s inclusion challenges have been rehashed over and over, but ultimately we need to move from discussion to action, and start building a diverse and inclusive and technology ecosystem.

What does an inclusive future look like and who is it being designed to serve? With the path we’re on currently, we are not democratizing opportunity, and this lack of diversity creates a risk — the risk that we won’t have the capabilities we need to face the next generation of challenges. With incredible innovations at our fingertips, we have the power to build a better tomorrow. We need to be clear about who we are building it for. Today’s technology has the potential to cultivate a new standard: a diverse future that’s representative of all people. This requires that we broaden the funnel of opportunity, both in the pathways to our organizations and in the technologies that we will build.

One of the ways we do this is by working with accelerators and startups through SAP.iO to ensure inclusive entrepreneurship. Most of today’s largest technology companies were startups once, and most grow without any thought to inclusion and diversity. Investing early on and using technology to help ensure diverse demographics and an inclusive culture can fuel innovation and lead to new engines of growth.

SAP.iO has made it a priority to identify and support founders that come from underrepresented groups. These founders get access to SAP’s technology engine and customer base, which expands their potential and their reach. We’ve also identified technologies themselves that expand opportunity — whether in pre-screening and hiring, the supplier diversity space, or in removing bias in performance and pay practices. Five to 10 years from now, we expect to have a very different technology landscape.

During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos next week, I hope that we explore the question of how we might distribute opportunity more widely. The world leaders at Davos are influential not only within their own countries and companies, but also on the world stage, with consumers who are increasingly diverse.

We can address the question and we can plan — as President Macron of France has done with the Tech for Good initiative — to use our collective influence and ability to improve diversity and inclusion and truly innovate for the good of society.

Read more stories about SAP at Davos

Judith Williams is chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP.

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