group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Why social and inclusive environments are key to building a culture of innovation

group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Article by Solange Sobral, EVP Partner of Operations at digital consultancy, CI&T

The theme of innovation took on new a form when the pandemic accelerated the digital journey, a movement that had already been occurring within several organisations.

More than ever, we have seen that so-called digital transformation has gone from being an abstract concept to a tangible reality for companies and individuals alike. As a result, innovation has become an even more definitive factor of differentiation, or even survival, for many businesses.

Current market conditions have not only exposed the importance of innovation and the digital journey, but have also opened up the need for inclusion and the role of people in building this culture.

To think about innovation and technology is to understand that this only happens when a sum of factors, such as a diversity of ideas, thoughts and social backgrounds, come together to form collective intelligence. When companies are attentive, they increasingly realise that the union of people with different professions, different experiences, and unique life stories helps to build great values for the future.

How diversity and inclusion impact transformation

When discussing innovation, it is important to demystify and simplify its concept. I like to see innovation as the corporate ability to solve problems in a simple and creative way.  Considering the diversity of our society, consumers, and circumstances, quick responses are usually required to mitigate high speeds of change and unpredictabilities.

Innovation is a tool for solving our current problems, as it passes through collaborative construction and collective intelligence. These two corporate skills make organisations capable of formulating fast, creative responses and, above all, adhering to the needs of their consumers and society. It is exactly this scenario that requires the expression of diversity within a company that follows the journey of digital transformation.

Understanding this path, it is essential to discuss how Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) impact the innovation and digital transformation processes of organisations, especially during sensitive moments and difficult world events such as the ones we are currently experiencing.

Taking responsibility for change

A study by Agility In Mind revealed that of the 250 UK business leaders questioned, one in three (30%) believe a lack of knowledge regarding diversity initiatives’ importance holds them back from having the desired impact. The understanding of the need for collective intelligence and the promotion of transparent and collaborative environments is integral to the management of large organisations.

But much remains to be done. Promoting this awareness, this expansion of knowledge and understanding of the depth of Diversity and Inclusion themes for the market and society is the responsibility of each of us, especially leaders. The initial key to change is the reconstruction of the leader’s mindset, their management mentality, which needs to move away from “command and control” to assume an active role in supporting the issues that touch D&I in companies.

The path that results in the innovation so desired by companies goes through humanised management and the construction of a safe environment for co-creation, engagement and creativity of teams and people, where they can be who they are and can contribute with their backgrounds. Humanised management is key in building impact.

As a result of these discussions, we can already see an acceleration of positive actions that have been transforming the lives of minorities and underprivileged groups for the better.  Although still not yet enough, change is noticeable. And with the broadening of this outlook, we are gradually creating more heterogeneous, harmonious, creative, intelligent and humane corporate environments that, above all, better understand the society in which we live, and become better equipped to design products, services and solutions for it.

If we want to enhance the individual and unique evolution of people, Diversity and Inclusion are powerful levers for that. They generate a sense of belonging, motivation and engagement, enhancing the creative culture of innovation. Giving people the freedom to be who they are is still one of the best ways to provoke and unlock their best potential.

The team behind the technology

The realisation that true digital transformation is the transformation of culture is often not assimilated. For many, only the technology aspect comes into this equation. But what is technology without the human eye, or without its use as a tool that enables solutions to our problems? Behind the proper and effective use of technology, there is always a human attitude or decision.

The adoption of new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data and several others is certainly challenging, but it is not the main challenge for a company to become innovative and digital. The biggest challenge is to engage its people in new corporate behaviour, in a new mindset open to experimentation, to the exchange of knowledge and the broad power of diverse thinking. The biggest challenge is to create a culture of innovation that is sustainable, in an environment of many changes and unpredictabilities.

New ways of using technology emerge every day and are excellent tools for directing strategies and supporting decisions. But it is not enough to surround yourself with technology without understanding the real problem to be solved. The key is to understand it as a means and not as an impact in itself.

Being digital means treating both the past and the future through collective intelligence and acting effectively based on quality data, guaranteeing the delivery of innovative solutions in line with the needs of people in society. In this way, Diversity and Inclusion are key levers for true transformation. They enable organisations to create a culture of innovation that will have an impact on their business and society. To be digital is to understand, above all, that technology is there to serve our needs as human beings, diverse by nature.

About the author

Solange SobralSolange Sobral is a Partner and Executive Vice President at CI&T.

She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Universidade Federal de São Carlos and a Master’s degree in Computer Science from UNICAMP, a leading university in Latin America.  Solange is a proud mother of three children.

She currently leads the CI&T operations in EMEA, promoting innovation and digital transformation for large organisations. In addition, Solange leads the company’s global ESG committee and supports the creation of humanised and inclusive management programs.  She is a passionate proponent of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace and has dedicated herself to illustrating both the cultural and business value of an inclusive workplace.

Solange is an independent board member of Unidas, a car rental company in Brazil, and of VIVO, one of the largest Telecom companies in Brazil. Solange is a volunteer consultant for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at Itaú, the largest bank in Latin America.

In addition, she is a columnist for Meio&Mensagem, a well-known publication in Brazil, covering Digital Transformation.