While the world moves at unprecedented speeds into an uncertain future, one thing that is certain is the need to diversify. In 2020, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, put out a call to action to CEOs asking them to release the racial, ethnic and gender makeup of their workforce and boards, stating “we are raising our expectations,” warning that they will vote against leaders who don’t act. It is blasphemous that there are currently only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, because if the diversity was truly representative of the population, there would be almost 65 Black CEOs on the list.
We’ve already seen more vocal groups of people step up to lead conversations about police brutality, #metoo, voting access, healthcare, refugee crises, LGBTQ rights, diversity and inclusion, income inequity, gun violence, food insecurity, hate crimes, safe spaces and criminal justice reform. These issues have put equality on center stage in the desperate need of a reset.
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However, we have been slow to address these problems, both of equality and of environmentalism. This lack of progress has caused the wounds to grow deeper and more severe. Moreover, those affected are caught in chronic trauma. The chronic trauma paralyzes us, and nobody can move forward. Much like the brain (as explained in the book “Thinking Fast and Slow”), creativity and innovation are impossible when we’re stuck between fight, flight or freeze.
Since progress is not an overnight absolute, but rather a complex, methodical and laborious process, we must view progress on a spectrum. Humans like to think they are absolute creatures with right and wrong and black and white, but we’re re-learning to view ourselves on spectrums, with shades of grey. We all live on a variety of spectrums in different areas of our lives. We have spectrums of sexuality, mental health, empathy, leadership and more. Viewing both ourselves and progress on spectrums allows us to be more fluid and less rigid. When we are more fluid, we can be more understanding, empathetic and adaptable.
One of the keys to innovation is diversity and inclusion, empowering the voices of the unheard. From the introvert to the diverse communities that exist within a workforce, it is important to drive change through these voices. For most companies, it starts with hiring and retention, to understand what efforts are being put to create equality and a representative workforce. Yet the practice should not stop there and should include training, leadership development and making sure all levels of the company represent the customers you serve.
Diversity is one important factor of exponential innovation, beyond being a good practice, it easily starts to improve the bottom line as you get closer to your customer needs and innovate to satisfy all your customers as the conversations get more real and align with the purpose of the company. Inclusion is another important factor as decision making needs to be distributed into a flatter organization that is closer to the customer and able to iterate through lean and agile methodologies.
Companies should seek to find diverse leadership that reflects the customer. An exponential company needs to make sure that diversity is on the board, senior leadership, middle management, supply chain and the front line that reflects the customer that they serve. Not only representation, yet true leadership roles that inspire the direction of the company reflective of the company purpose, values and mission.
The future will demand a diverse workforce or companies will likely be obsolete. Innovation is best when it comes from different perspectives and represents the customer. Our future leaders need to lean into diversity and inclusion to stay competitive in an ever-competitive marketplace, where industries are colliding, and exponential innovation is creating 10x gains. No longer can leadership shoot for status quo with 10% growth and stay relevant. This is a call to action for leaders to build talent representative of your customer. Companies will grow or die as the future requires vision, understanding, clarity and agility. Welcome to the exponential world!
Aaron D. Bare, entrepreneur, business strategist and co-founder of the Herozona Foundation, started his technology career at Accenture and went on to develop over 100 websites, software projects and apps at his award-winner digital agency. As a world traveler, he found that the key to success in life is by raising consciousness—both internally and externally. He recently co-wrote “Exponential Theory: The Power of Thinking Big” to inspire a new generation of leadership—one that is purposeful, conscious, digital, and above all, exponential. This book coins a new business idea, Exponential Theory. This theory states that when leaders focus on solving big problems, they become more conscious.