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Why diversity in tech companies is a vital part of innovation

Thibault Dousson, General Manager at Lenovo South Africa

Technology is all about innovation. Our key mandate as device manufacturers is to make products that simplify and enhance people’s lives, and so we are always looking for new and better ways to do this. For this to happen, we need talent who have the necessary skills, experience and know-how. But if we want to make technology that truly improves the experience of all of our users, then it’s also vital that our staff is diverse and represents our broad spectrum of users so that new innovations answer a wide range of different consumer needs.

Because technology is for everyone, diversity is crucial
From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that diverse teams are more productive, more creative, and produce more impactful work. It’s critical that the teams of people at tech companies who are building their products, creating their products, selling their products, and helping tell their products’ story look like their existing and potential customers.
Diversity in our workplace enables us to better understand what people need and want from technology. If we are not inclusive in our behaviours and beliefs, we cannot be diverse in our thoughts and ideas, and ultimately, in the products and services we create. It means that we can better imagine, design, and make the devices that deliver universal human experiences.
Lenovo’s focus on diversity is a fundamental element of our customer-centric philosophy. We know that our existing and potential customers are very different; they don’t look like one monolithic group of people. Our employee base in South Africa and around the world is extremely diverse, and it’s critical that we continue to represent that very customer base we’re talking about.
Diversity is key in product evolution
Diversity is also a crucial consideration in developing the innovative tech products of the future. As our technologies become smarter, the requirement for diversity and inclusion will only increase. In the world of AI, our devices use data sets to determine or strengthen our solutions. The more diverse our populations, the more diverse our data sets must be. A simple example of this is biometric information. In order to include everyone who uses our devices, our data sets need to be vast and include the true depth of the human experience – everything from different facial structures and skin colours for our cameras, to different size fingers or skin types for fingerprint sensors on our mobile phones and PCs, to different voices and accents for smart speakers. AI must account for all of this diversity and more.

Diversity means better financial performance
Several studies over the past decade have also linked diversity rather strongly to better financial performance, especially when it comes to innovation. A 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group highlighted that companies that had above average diversity representation on their leadership team only reported 26% revenue from innovations, while companies whose diversity representation at management level got 45% revenue from innovations. In terms of this study, this meant that nearly half of the revenue of companies with diverse leadership teams came from products they had released in the previous three years. This was because these companies were better able to quickly adapt to changes in customer demand, thanks to their diverse management.

Another example is a 2018 study conducted by McKinsey across a broad spectrum of industries. It showed that companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. Companies with more equal gender representation were 21% more likely to do better on earnings than their competitors.

Diversity and Lenovo
Lenovo recognises the need for diversity in the products we make. For example, our Yoga laptop was created by a team of engineers from China, the US, and Japan – and became the industry-standard convertible design. The Yoga’s great adaptability and four usage modes – tablet (for reading), tent (for watching movies) and stand (for display), as well as traditional laptop mode – owes its inspiration to its cross-cultural origins.
Another key aspect of diversity that Lenovo focuses on is gender diversity. It’s not only the right thing to do from an equality perspective, but it also makes business sense – for example, 75% of the people in South Africa who use Lenovo products are women. Thirty-three percent of our workforce at Lenovo South Africa is female. This is in line with industry standards, but we are far from satisfied with this ratio. We need to ensure that the ICT industry attracts more women, and change the perceptions of what the IT industry looks like. Lenovo is making significant strides here; for example, our forward-thinking flexible working policy was formulated with working parents in mind. This caters to the large percentage of mothers in South Africa who are single parents.
Lenovo also believes strongly in supporting their female employees to grow within the company. Our Women in Lenovo Leadership programme provides networking, volunteering and development opportunities globally across 40 countries, including South Africa. It is open to any employee and includes aspects such as mentoring, panel discussions with outside speakers, and education.
I firmly believe that technology companies in particular, need to be diversity leaders. We make the products that break down barriers, and that can help empower people everywhere to be equal and belong. Lenovo is excited to be a catalyst for inclusion and create social equity, and believes in putting diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its workplace culture and client relationships.

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