Three ways design thinking helps improve diversity and inclusion

Every decision we make, product we create, and service we develop is better when we work in partnership with a diverse range of people. Bringing together colleagues and stakeholders with varied experience, backgrounds and perspectives can only add value to the work we do.

In its 2020 report Diversity Wins, McKinsey & Company found that “the business case for inclusion and diversity is stronger than ever. For diverse companies, the likelihood of outperforming industry peers on profitability has increased over time, while the penalties are getting steeper for those lacking diversity.” So there are more reasons than ever for organisations to seek ways to improve their approach to diversity and inclusion.

One of the many benefits of using design thinking is that the mindsets and approaches it teaches you to use automatically lead to more diverse and inclusive ways of working.

In this blog, we’ve set out three ways design thinking helps improve diversity and inclusion in your innovation processes and beyond.

1. To do design thinking well, you have to involve a broad range of people

Design thinking teaches you to look beyond your own biases and viewpoint, and instead focus on what your customers care about. It’s about identifying new opportunities to meet their needs by involving a broader range of people in your processes, asking different questions, and listening more closely to their answers.

Every stage of the process requires you to go beyond your usual sphere, and involve a more diverse range of people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.

For example, the first step in a design thinking approach involves building empathy with your customers. You need to involve people from all walks of life to get a deep understanding of the breadth of feelings and responses people have to the problem you’re trying to solve.

Speaking to such a variety of people will give you fantastic insights into what they care about, which you’ll use as a basis for creating new ideas. Going beyond your usual research routes and broadening the voices you listen to will lead to more inventive ideas, which you may not otherwise have thought of.

And it doesn’t stop there. When it comes to running a brainstorming session or testing out your prototypes, the greater the diversity of voices you can involve and feedback you can get, the more robust your solutions will be.

By going through this process and seeing the benefits a diverse range of perspectives can bring, we have observed that teams begin working this way as a matter of course – automatically seeking to increase diversity and inclusion because they know the results will be better.

2. Design thinking shows you the benefit of stepping outside of your comfort zone

When you’re creating something new, it’s human nature to default to your usual sounding boards for their opinions. It’s also natural to go to people you expect to agree with you, to help get the work moving more quickly.

But that approach won’t lead to new solutions. And it won’t uncover what your customers really want. To get those exciting, unknown insights, you need to look beyond your usual circle.

Accenture found in its Getting to Equal research 2019 that operating with this kind of culture only leads to positive results. They found that employees in the most-equal cultures see fewer barriers to innovating, and are less afraid to fail.

This is one of the most crucial barriers businesses have to overcome when using design thinking, as people often fear putting forward something new in case it doesn’t work out. But this research shows that when a truly inclusive culture is in place, people feel empowered to innovate without fear of failure – and when they do that, truly amazing things can happen.

Using design thinking helps create that culture. It teaches you to look for new inspiration, and demonstrates the value of being jarred out of the status quo. The business sees great results from the new ideas that get put forward, and sees a more positive working culture as diversity and inclusion becomes a natural part of your ways of working.

3. Design thinking is a great way to solve diversity and inclusion challenges

At Treehouse Innovation, our team of innovation consultants has worked with a range of organisations, including tech businesses, professional service firms, and media companies to help them improve diversity and inclusion.

We’ve applied the process and methods of design to develop actionable strategies for how they can improve their ways of working, ensure everybody in the organisation has an equal voice, and help the company reap the benefits of the new insights and ideas that come to light as a result.

The ideas you generate to a challenge such as ‘How might we create a culture that celebrates diversity and promotes universal inclusion?’ are borne out of an inherently diverse process. You walk away with a much better solution because you’ll have automatically spoken to diverse groups, gained real empathy about what matters to people, and sought feedback from a broad audience. By walking the walk, you’ll see for yourself, and be able to demonstrate to the rest of the business, what a great impact true inclusivity can have

As McKinsey & Company found in its research, though there is a robust business case for diversity and inclusion in organisations, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before most achieve it. With such clear evidence that prioritising this issue leads to great cultural and financial benefits, there’s never been a better time for organisations to up their game.

Bringing design thinking tools and mindsets into your business is a great place to start. With diversity and inclusion such a natural part of the process, it’s an ideal approach for organisations wanting to do better in this area.

If you want to use design thinking to improve diversity and inclusion in your business, we can help. Email or contact us today.

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