The Importance of Diversity

The Importance of Diversity

By Michael Forkner, OSA & SPS


In today’s social climate, issues surrounding diversity and inclusion are increasingly being discussed, yet, very few people are talking about how diversity affects the workplace from an innovation standpoint. Lora Allemeier, CEO of Ocean Optics, did just that at OSA’s 2017 Innovation School. Diversity, as Allemeier pointed out, can be as simple as being the only person in your room who likes a certain food or activity or the more commonly known definition of diversity. For example, we generally think of diversity as race, language, gender identity, sexuality, etc. Allemeier spoke of a different route and talked about how diversity of experiences and background drives innovation.

She cited an example of when she was working as the head of program management for a company working with HIV. While her team was a very racially diverse team, it did not have the diversity of background that would have made it a success. Many of the team members had MBA’s from Ivy League schools and came from areas whose populations were well educated. This, however, was not the background of the audience they were studying. They failed to connect with their target audience because they did not understand the hardship or experiences those with HIV go through. The team decided they needed to change their expectations and marketing plan. This is an excellent example on how diversity in the workplace can lead to a successful business, but how does this apply to innovation?

Similar to Amy Eskilson’s talk, Traveling your path, Allemeier talked about how having experience in different fields of the business can drive innovation. She discussed Ocean Optics’ business model to the audience, which meant having employees go to different divisions around the globe for a few months at a time. This made it just long enough for the employees to get a handle on how things operate in one division, then move to continue to learn new and differing skills - never getting to comfortable in one place. When it comes to leadership, she explained, this is an excellent strategy. Not only does the employee know what each division does, he or she also understands the culture and people. One needs to be outside of his or her comfort zone to become creative to solve the problems ahead. 

Posted: 28 July 2017 by Michael Forkner, OSA & SPS | with 0 comments