Why Diversity is Crucial to Innovation in the Automotive Industry

Diversity has become a major hiring initiative for many of the auto industry’s biggest players, and not just because it helps to both land and retain top talent. Yes -- embracing diversity and inclusion as core values and treating people of all genders, ages, races and ethnicities equally is the right thing to do. Turns out, it’s also the best way to drive innovation.


After all, innovation stems from outside-the-box thinking that breaks with the status quo, and in almost all cases it requires a collaborative effort, one in which people (or groups of people) exchange ideas and build upon concepts until they reach that aha moment. Hardly ever does innovation occur in isolation. Instead, it relies on a circle of interpersonal connections to make things happen. It stands to reason, then, that innovation is stifled by groups of people with similar backgrounds who are all likely to look at a problem the same way.


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Diverse groups of people, on the other hand, bring unique perspectives to complex challenges. They simply look at things differently, which enables them to offer insight or ideas that groups of like-minded people might never even consider. Diverse groups of people can help break the cycle of limited thinking that plagues more homogeneous groups, setting them free to explore new ideas and identify new solutions. Great ideas can come from anywhere and anybody, and they are the great equalizer in the workplace.


A study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) found that companies that are more diverse than others are 45 percent more likely to grow their market share year over year. They are also 70 percent more likely to report that they’ve captured a new market. The study credits what it calls 2-D diversity -- diversity that stems from both inherent traits such as gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation as well as from acquired traits, or those earned through experience -- for unlocking innovation by creating an environment where new and sometimes unexpected ideas are not only voiced, but actually heard.


This latter point is critical. It is not enough to hire a diverse range of employees. Those employees must be given a voice as well. Companies must create an environment in which it is safe to propose new ideas, no matter how outlandish they might at first appear, and they must give diverse voices equal consideration, equal decision-making authority, and an equal share of the credit for their contributions to innovation. The CTI report found that  “Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.”


A push for diversity is especially important in the automotive industry, for two primary reasons. The first is that these are particularly revolutionary times for the auto industry, as it undergoes a period of transformation unseen perhaps since the days of Henry Ford and his Model T assembly line. With advances in autonomous vehicles, clean energy, mobility and other areas happening at an almost dizzying pace, companies can simply not afford to not innovate. They need every edge they can get to compete in today’s landscape.


The other reason why diversity is so crucial to the automotive sector is simply that, like many industries involving a lot of technical and engineering roles, there isn’t currently enough of it. A Catalyst report on “Women In The Automotive Industry” explains that while women make up nearly half of the US labor force, they account for only about one-quarter of the automotive workforce. In the EU and Canada, women make up even less of the industry’s employee base. The good news is that an increasing number of women have entered STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) jobs since the 1970’s, and gender parity is on the upswing in the auto industry and other technical fields in general.  


Of course, diversity isn’t limited to gender. But as International Women’s Day approaches on March 8th, it is worth considering that gender parity still has a long way to go in the corporate world at large. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “#PressforProgress”, and as we all know, progress doesn’t happen overnight. But fueled by global activism and increased access to high-quality and affordable STEM education, progress in the workplace for women and minorities of all stripes seems to be happening in leaps abounds rather than fits and starts.


Here at Innoviz, we make a point to hire talented employees with a diverse range of educational, cultural, ethnic, age, military and corporate backgrounds. Although we admit that there’s always room for growth and greater diversity, we go out of our way to hire a diverse range of employees and to create an environment that nurtures and supports the voices of these employees so that the best ideas -- regardless of where they come from -- bubble up to the top.


I believe that connecting people from diverse backgrounds creates an environment that pushes them to move out of their comfort zone. People that come from different cultures, ages or genders tend to think differently, and therefore ideas are always challenged, plans are always tested, and discussions are always richer. When people are faced with diversity on a daily basis, it forces them to see things from a different perspective than they are used to. This can be challenging initially, but once a culture of trust and respect is established within an organization, the discussions that involve a more diverse set of perspectives inevitably lead to greater productivity, creativity and innovation.


For us, the results speak for themselves. We have moved from the concept stage and prototyping to beta development and now mass production of our groundbreaking LiDAR technology faster than any of our competitors. For that, we have many diverse voices to thank.