By James Henderson, Bart Phillips, and Ellen Miller-Wolfe
Research continues to overwhelmingly prove what many of us in the Pacific Northwest already know: a diverse and inclusive workplace contributes to innovation and business success. As participants in developing the Innovation Triangle region made up of Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond, we’ve seen firsthand how diversity makes our region more competitive, richer, and inclusive. But don’t just believe us — a study by McKinsey & Company (“Diversity Matters”) determined that businesses in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform their industry. In the United States, for every 10 percent increase in diversity on the senior executive team, there is a 0.8 percent increase in their company’s earnings before interest and taxes. Diversity is profitable.
Not only is diversity profitable; it brings with it a host of other benefits that contribute to the life of our region. For example, having more perspectives increases our region’s businesses’ adaptability. Inclusion helps all employees feel more valued, increasing stability. Diversity provides a larger pool from which to recruit for hard-to-find technical skills. It brings languages, food, and customs into our cities, making the Eastside a richer, more interesting place to live.
But most importantly, from Innovation Triangle’s point of view, is that diversity increases innovation and collaboration. Glenn Bowers, president of iSoftStone, a Chinese-owned IT consulting company based in Kirkland, recently emphasized that 40 percent of his workforce is comprised of highly skilled foreign employees. Earlier this year, both the Kirkland and Redmond city councils unanimously passed ordinances embracing diversity and reinforcing themselves as safe, inclusive, and welcoming cities.
When people of different experiences, work styles, and backgrounds work together, something exciting happens. Innovation occurs at the crossroads, where ideas collide. Creative concepts come from bouncing ideas off each other, hearing different perspectives, and sharing different skills. Diversity is the very soil from which innovative ideas grow.
This diversity is manifested in the founding or leadership of many of our largest Eastside companies, such as Microsoft, Expedia, Google, Alibaba, and Nintendo. Diversity in leadership is important, because it releases the ideas that otherwise might not get voice. According to the Harvard Business Review, “without diverse leadership, women are 20 percent less likely than straight white men to win endorsement for their ideas; people of color are 24 percent less likely; and LGBTs are 21 percent less likely. This costs their companies crucial market opportunities, because inherently diverse contributors understand the unmet needs in under-leveraged markets.”
So inclusivity is good business. Here in the Innovation Triangle, we strive to foster an environment that is welcoming to all. But not just because that would be nice, but because it’s necessary for our continued growth.
Inclusivity helps us recruit talent for our technology sector, the fastest-growing business sector here, which currently comprises more than 99,000 workers and industry revenues of $46.9 billion in King County alone. These tech-sector jobs are also well-paying — averaging $124,000 a year — which also contributes to the overall economic health of the region.
Our workforce depends on immigrants. In Washington state, 51 percent of the native-born population is of working age, compared to 71 percent of foreign-born population, according to a 2016 report by the New American Economy. The same report showed that 45 percent of software developers are foreign-born. More than 30 percent of our region’s residents were born outside the U.S., so if we leave those workers out, we miss out on a full third of the potential workforce.
Companies and civic leaders that advocate for cultural diversity through their policies, investments, and practices will strengthen their communities and their bottom line. We’ve seen that at the Innovation Triangle, where, in 2013, our region’s output was $48 billion. Of course, we attract great workers and great companies because of the quality of life, work-life balance and surrounding natural beauty. But our biggest asset to be celebrity is diversity — it’s what makes us resilient, adaptable, and dynamic.
James Henderson is the economic development director for the City of Bellevue; Bart Phillips is the CEO of OneRedmond; and Ellen Miller-Wolfe is the economic development manager for the City of Kirkland. They will be among those attending the Select USA Investment Summit, which will be held June 18-20 in Washington, D.C.