Building Competitive Advantage with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Karen Maples
Co-Founder and Chief Catalyst

Most stakeholders within the innovation ecosystem are familiar with the concept of competitive advantage, given that one variable in the equation that defines a technology’s commercialization potential is its ability to solve a problem more effectively than existing options. What might be less obvious is how embracing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) can increase that competitive advantage.
There are many aspects to competitive advantage. In tech transfer where the focus is on increasing levels of success in commercialization efforts, three areas where embracing EDI makes a difference are: understanding of customer markets, better decision-making and high performing work teams.

Customer Understanding. When your organization is more reflective of your customers and markets, you can achieve a greater understanding of who your customers are as well as a deeper level of empathy for their needs. That understanding, in turn, can make your commercialization efforts more relevant to the markets they are most likely to benefit. Studies have shown that customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable.
Decision-Making. Successful technology commercialization depends on good decisions. Diverse teams provide diversity of thought, perspectives and experiences which often leads to better decision-making. According to a study by Cloverpop (a decision intelligence platform company) an all-male team makes the right decision 58% of the time, whereas organizations inclusive with age, gender and ethnicity realize 87% better decision-making.
High Performance Teams. Highly engaged and diverse work teams tend to be more creative and productive—qualities that contribute to commercialization efforts—and achieve greater results. A Gartner study found that gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed less inclusive teams by an average of 50%.

To achieve competitive advantage, the linkage between equity, diversity and inclusion must be well thought out. It’s the combination that matters to ensure all stakeholders feel valued and respected and approach their work with a sense of belonging.
Sustained effort is also imperative. As stated by Bryan Hancock from McKinsey Talks Talent: “D&I is good business…This isn’t an issue where leaders can say, ‘We can’t do diversity right now, because we’re under a lot of pressure.’ Diversity is one of the things you’ve got to be mindful of in every context.”

Fostering an inclusive culture as a foundational component of your EDI strategy leads to additional benefits, such as: 

  • Attracting Talent. A Glassdoor survey found that 76% of workers believe diversity is essential when making decisions about job offers. Broadening the talent pool with a richness of backgrounds and experiences is required for the drivers of competitive advantage discussed above. 
  • Building Trust. Trust is essential for sustaining strong work relationships. Without trust, it’s unlikely individuals will deliver their best performance. Trust is at the heart of a truly inclusive culture.
How to start expanding your organization’s EDI strategy
First, making changes immediately is a BAD idea. Take time to define your EDI objectives and the implementation strategies that will be needed.
Here are five “golden rules” for planning your efforts:
  1. Engage in conversations and interactions with all stakeholders.
  2. Gather data to identify your biggest challenges and gaps.
  3. Assess what will create the greatest impact for your organization.
  4. Be clear about how your EDI initiatives align with your organization’s mission and goals.
  5. Define a pilot/trial before implementing any new initiative, process or practice.

Final Thoughts
To learn more, check out the recording of the AUTM EDI Committee’s recent webinar: Powering Next Gen Competitive Advantage in Tech Transfer.  Free for AUTM Members!