Is Diversity Innovative? Or Is It the Reverse?

March 14, 2017

If you work in technology for a long time, the word “innovation” starts to lose its meaning. Every idea is innovative. Every tool is an innovation. Many people feel exactly the same way about diversity. As this New York Times Magazine article argues, “diversity” is a word appropriated so much that it can start to mean everything and nothing. The watering down of both words frustrates me because, as my global work reveals to me time and again, nothing can fuel creative digital thinking better today than diversity. Here’s how one globe-hopping business trip reminded me of how much we count on diverse people and ideas to fuel our digital world.

A Question in Australia
My colleagues in Australia are never shy about challenging convention, which is why I had to first laugh and then think awhile after I was teased sweetly about the work I do to promote women’s advancement in IT and business leadership. “Men have rights too,” a couple of my male counterparts joked as we discussed upcoming events and they generously offered their ideas and support for several women-focused development efforts. Their words were all in “good fun” as they might say down under, and they were in no way denying the great amount of work needed to be done for women and other diverse groups around the world to reach economic, political and social equality.
What the conversation did stir in me was some of those burning questions that we all get as we push for change over a long period of time. Have our efforts made the necessary progress? Is diversity something we still have to achieve in the tech industry or has innovation become diverse because the marketplace is global and diverse? Is there more concentrated work that needs to be done? That’s what was on my mind as I left Australia and headed to Asia.
An Answer in Vietnam
Harvey Nash is fortunate to have two global IT outsourcing and delivery centers in Vietnam–a country that has boldly embraced science and technology in its education and economic programs. For the last five years, I have had the chance to see how our Vietnamese colleagues partner with tech teams around the world to deliver mobile apps, sophisticated software solutions and world-class quality assurance. The work they do touches businesses and consumers in every country.
As I flew toward Asia, I pondered whether my emphasis on women in technology might be too narrow. I remembered all the studying I first did on the Vietnamese government’s investment in STEM areas and education overall. The country has taken a long-term approach, from investing in education and teachers to encouraging entrepreneurialism and creating incentive programs to bring global tech businesses to Vietnam. The work has paid off and all you have to do is visit one of our delivery centers to realize it.
The technology professionals who staff our centers are skilled specialists but also nimble business professionals who know how to navigate a client base that spans countries and time zones. The amount of IT ingenuity occurring at any corner of the delivery center is impressive and the word that hit me was: innovation. The tech titans of Silicon Valley 40 years ago would never have conceived that the war ravaged country of Vietnam would today be its own HQ of STEM innovation. But that’s how much the world can change when you really focus on making a change.
And there was my answer. It takes sustained focus to make change, and the tech industry is still in need of sustained focus in order to see big changes around diversity. Vietnam’s transformation took several decades, but look at the success. It’s a lesson for the future. If we don’t all take a concerted, active interest in improving diversity across tech and invest in it for the long term, we won’t advance. And how can you innovate without diversity in a global, diverse marketplace?
Will I continue to champion women in tech, increasing workforce diversity and equality across cultures and religions? Indubitably, and I will watch for more ways to push for greater diversity. Why? Because innovation (however you mean it) matters and diversity (however you defined it) fuels it.