Inclusive Innovation by Silicon Valley Employers: How are you measuring up?

Most companies have yet to find sustainable solutions to address large gender gaps in the workforce despite understanding its key to business success. This not only hinders innovation, productivity, and team performance — but also limits the development of inclusive products and technology accessible to all end users. On September 25th, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) co-hosted an event with UN Women and Nordic Innovation House — Silicon Valley at Ericsson’s Santa Clara office to bring leaders in the Bay Area together to share and discuss how to enhance inclusive innovation — particularly related to gender — and critically, the role of inclusive teams and workplaces.

Pictured left to right: Diana Rusu, Rani Yadav-Ranjan, Genevieve Smith, and Kristin Haffert

The day kicked off with a panel on the importance of inclusive innovation and how inclusive teams and organizations are a prerequisite to ensuring that the research and areas of innovation they invest in are gender inclusive. Moderated by UN Women’s Diana Rusu, panelists — including Genevieve Smith (Research Director at EGAL), Kristin Haffert (US Coordinator, UN Women, WE EMPOWER program), and Rani Yadav-Ranjan (Head of AI & Innovation at Ericsson) — shared valuable insights that drew on their own experiences in the inclusive innovation space. The panelists outlined key resources for participants to incorporate into their innovation processes, with three major takeaways:

1. Inclusive innovation requires diversity at every stage.

Recounting her journey as an entrepreneur, Yadav-Rajan emphasized that her innovations were always driven by necessity, but that VCs (which have fewer than 1% women) were reluctant to invest in her startups. She cited the fact that fewer than 2% of female founders are backed by VCs as evidence for needing women at the forefront of the design process. Smith noted that this inclusion is especially crucial for products built for women as end users, as she saw through her experience designing clean burning cook stoves in Peru. The white, male engineering team developed stoves that did not entirely meet the needs of the women using them. The panelists’ stories highlighted the loss of opportunities and consumer bases firms face when they fail to prioritize inclusion in their innovation processes.

2. Inclusive teams are a prerequisite to building diversity into design processes, but require holistic frameworks.

Smith went on to explain the research-backed support for inclusive organizations and teams, highlighting how diverse teams can incorporate different lived experiences to provide more nuance and reduced biases when developing products and services. She outlined EGAL’s framework for holistically promoting an inclusive workplace that requires: a) individual leadership mindsets that understand the importance of and support gender equity, b) institutional policies around recruitment and retention, pay equity, etc., and c) a supportive community through training for managers that helps them overcome biases and prioritize equity and inclusion. Haffert also shared the UN Women’s Gender Innovation Principles as another such model firms could adopt.

3. In order for inclusive teams to become the norm, opportunity gaps outside and within the workplace must be addressed.

All three panelists acknowledged that young women often lack access to resources needed to flourish as innovators. Smith and Haffert encouraged creating supportive environments for girls interested in a STEM education and career, even building empowerment curricula into schools, and Yadav-Rajan advocated for policies within firms that allow employees to pivot between functions and collaborate on initiatives (such as Ericsson’s Ericsson ONE).

The rest of the event took a closer look at what specific organizations are doing internally to advance inclusion, as well as the implications this has on innovation. The workshop, moderated by Genevieve Smith, involved four presentations. Natalie Simmons (Diversity & Inclusion, Zendesk) outlined Zendesk’s 4 step approach to D&I, highlighting Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and the successful policy and program improvements they’ve achieved. Hasan Rafiq (Diversity & Inclusiveness Leader, EY) presented the results of a ‘belonging barometer study’ conducted at EY, as well as actions taken in response to the data collected. Angelica Quirarte (Leading Digital Engagement, California Government Operations Agency) provided a public sector perspective, talking about NxtGov, an ERG she spearheaded that serves to connect millennials working in California’s public service system. Max Parknas (Programme Manager of Industrial Technologies & Innovation Management, Vinnova) shared the organization’s approach to gender mainstreaming research in support of innovations that identify and combat normative ways of thinking.

The day ended with a discussion on solutions and roadblocks participants have experienced and strategies innovated. The broad findings from the workshop will be used to inform the work of the G7 on women’s economic empowerment and strategies to advance gender inclusion in innovation within the private sector.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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