A panel of experts including James Orchard, Executive General Manager, Innovation, IAG; Sally-Ann Williams, Executive Program Manager, Google Australia; Dr Michelle Deaker, Managing Partner, One Ventures and Martin Hoffman, Secretary, NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation discussed diversity as a key driver of innovation. The discussion was moderated by Nick Abrahams, Global Head of Technology & Innovation Norton Rose Fulbright
The event was sponsored by Macquarie Capital and Norton Rose Fulbright.
Below are some of the key insights to come out of the discussion.
What does diversity mean to you?
Sally-Ann Williams said diversity is not all about women, women are part of the communication but when we talk about diversity, we need to talk about greater representation of everyone in society – those with physical and intellectual disabilities, those who speak languages other than English, indigenous and first nations peoples, people who come from different countries. Google thinks about all of our users – they are global, how can we do anything for them if they are not represented in our organisation?
James Orchard said diversity is about attracting and retaining a talented workforce that reflects the communities that we’re serving. Diversity is about inclusion and a sense of belonging – can you show up to work and be who you are? Do we accept diversity of thought?
Dr. Michelle Deaker said that building an investment firm as a woman 10 years ago was tough. As a female entrepreneur trying to raise capital, most people used to think she was turning up to take notes at the meeting. Michelle said we need to take bias out of our decision making. At One Ventures, we’re trying to invest in companies that are transforming global markets in tech and healthcare. We’re dealing with communities of people and we need to have awareness of these communities. We have a diverse team – scientists, doctors, people from all over the world including South Africa, Europe, Canada. We want a global perspective and cultural diversity in our thinking because we’re driving products into global markets. Everyone has the right to be who they want to be, ours is a transparent and inclusive environment and many entrepreneurs come to us as this is our point of differentiation in the market.
Martin Hoffman said we need to be careful to avoid diversity theatre, i.e. lots of lunches, posters on the walls but it only runs skin deep. Change needs to come from the top and the bottom. The Premier has given us 12 priorities across the whole sweep of what government does, and one of them is diversity in the public service. When people feel that the organisation they work for respects individual differences, they are much more engaged with organisation and the work. We need targets because what gets measured, gets done. We’re looking at 50% women senior leadership by 2025.
Diversity is good for business, particularly when it comes to human-centred product design
Sally-Ann said when design teams are all the same, you get bad results. A study showed that women are 47% more likely to be injured in a car accident, because the crash test dummies that are used are the size of an average male – significantly taller and bigger than a woman. When Google first released the iOS to upload videos to YouTube from your device, the videos kept appearing upside down. The design teams were all the same – we had no one left-handed on the team testing! With product design, it really matters who is on your team, and who you’re designing for. The only way you can do that is by having those people in the room. It’s about making product design inclusive. Building something for everyone leads to a better product for everyone. We need to have every voice in the room, people will push and shove and tell us why things don’t work.
James said insurance is a legacy industry and insurance product design is traditionally done by a small team, usually all white male. Products take one to two years to build, and often fail. IAG built an innovation team from scratch comprised of a diverse cohort. He said since we introduced the team, we’ve brought 18 products to market in the year it previously took us to bring one. We learnt to design for mobile first, to have products available online and more. It’s important not to punish people for having a different point of view – the innovation process understands that people come as they are.
Michelle said the female market has been largely underserved in new product and product design. A start-up identified a market gap treating a condition for menopausal women, but they couldn’t raise capital as male-led VCs weren’t able to feel any emotional connection with product. One Ventures back that investment opportunity, but we have challenged them to increase diversity in their team (i.e. more men) to bring diverse thinking into the organisation.
Women in the leadership team
From a global perspective, female founders receive around 3% of VC funding even though the number of women looking for funding is much higher. Female-led businesses bring 35% higher ROI for investors; figures show diverse teams out perform exclusively male cohorts.
Sally Ann said it’s not just about feeling good, it’s good business.
James said it applies to large organisations, not just start-ups. We grow at 2-3% per year. The fourth largest insurance company in the US brought in a young female CEO, and the company experienced 21% organic growth in the last year. She brought innovation front and centre and revamped the company’s diversity and inclusion agenda.
Martin said Service NSW is one of the great success stories of public administration, overseas delegations constantly want to come and see what we’ve done. We have high 90s satisfaction rates in our service and call centres. The staff in the call and services centre are reflective of their community.
Where does innovation live in an organisation?
Sally-Ann said at Google we are unusual, it’s everywhere. We don’t isolate, good ideas can some from anywhere.
Martin said we have an innovation space rather than a team, we move teams from the whole business through that space. It gets people out of their usual work space and encourages a new way of thinking. We don’t have a single team who are seen as the ‘Golden Children.’ We have a Best Failure Award. Top down support is important. And of course, it sounds obvious, we do innovation training.
James said we created a new team called Innovation – a large design team to work on projects in the core business who are involved in the process every step of the way. Admittedly, we’re currently a little isolated. The challenge for big business is that you need top down support, but you need top down support not just in words and with small budgets – if I’m honest, the money hasn’t flowed. The question is how do you achievably have that commitment to innovation, and have it more than tokenism, not just because it’s cool to have a lab?
Why are we struggling so much with diversity if we all agree it’s important? What is in our way?
James said we recognise the problem, but there needs to be more of an assertive move – we need 50% of senior leaders to be women, not 31-34%. Sometimes we need to just act!
Martin said it’s actually very hard, it’s people and it’s different views We think that we all think the same, but we don’t. Over 40% of Australians voted against same sex marriage – what do we think of those views?
Michelle said it’s a broader cultural issue and it will take a while to get there. The younger people coming through have a broader view.
Sally-Ann said it is a whole of society problem. It needs to start with the government, in schools, in every sector. If it’s not happening in every sector, it’s not happening. Every single person needs to act – be the change you want to see in the world – it requires you to take action! You are an actor with a sphere of influence. Click activism doesn’t matter a dime unless you go on and do something personally – everyone has the ability to do something.
What is the government doing to help refugees rebuild their lives and give them jobs?
Nick Abrahams said Accenture is using blockchain to give displaced people an identity.
Martin said Australia remains the most generation nation with regards to the number of refugees in proportion to the population.
Michelle said it would be interesting for us to track number of refugees. Start-ups are often founded by people wanting to get started or re-started in their lives, and there would definitely be refugees in the innovation community. There are some social impact funds and small programs, but more could be done.
Sally-Ann said Google has a not-for-profit partner that works with refugees and new migrants to increase digital literacy. She also mentioned a Techfugees hackathon in Sydney.
How do you take a great idea to market?
Sally Ann said it’s not a great idea, it’s what is the problem that you’re trying to solve. If it really is a great idea, it will go to market. It’s only a great product if it’s something people want. You can’t build in insolation without the input of customers.
Martin said the quicker you get something in front of real users, the better, after numerous iterations.
Michelle said in big corporations, it’s hard to get engagement within the organisation. Many try to set up innovation incubators or areas to overcome this problem. Sometimes being the internal entrepreneur is hard. Companies need to encourage intrapreneurs because they’ll end up with great new business models.