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INTERVIEW: Why diversity in tech companies is a vital part of innovation

November 13, 2019 • Digital Transformation, People, Top Stories

Technology is all about innovation and the key mandate for manufacturers is to make products that simplify and enhance people’s lives. For technology to truly improve the experience of users, it’s also vital that the talent in technology companies is diverse and represents a broad spectrum of users so that new innovations can answer a wide range of different consumer needs.

For technology to truly improve the experience of users, it’s also vital that the talent in technology companies is diverse and represents a broad spectrum of users.

IT News Africa’s Jenna Cook had the opportunity to chat with Thibault Dousson, General Manager at Lenovo South Africa about the importance of diversity is a key part of innovation. Here’s what transpired:

How has innovation transformed South Africa in the last 3-5 years? And what has been Lenovo’s role in this transformation?

Innovation is the most important tool that can take South Africa forward, and promote equality in our nation. Recent innovations that have enhanced South Africans’ lives include improvements in internet speed and accessibility, as well as having more affordable yet high functioning smartphones and PCs available.

At Lenovo, innovation isn’t just what we do, it’s part of our DNA. It flows through everything —from the smartphone in your pocket and light bulbs in your smart home to the servers in your data centre. We are dedicated to transforming our customers’ experience with technology—and how it, and they, interact with the world around us. Both our PC and Data Centre business divisions have played a significant role in creating solutions to enhance the quality of life of South Africans.

Why is diversity a key part of innovation? And how does Lenovo embody this?
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.

Does diversity in technology lead to better financial performance? If so, why?
Several studies over the past decade have strongly linked diversity to better financial performance, especially when it comes to innovation. For example, a 2018 study by the Boston Consulting Group highlighted that diversity is directly linked to innovation and financial performance.

Companies that had above-average diversity representation on their leadership team only reported 26% revenue from innovations, while companies whose management teams were far more diverse reported 45% revenue from innovations and higher EBIT margins.

What kind of tech-related talent does Lenovo look for in employees?
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.

How has Lenovo used diversity to its advantage?
We at Lenovo are aware that, as 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.

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.

By Jenna Cook

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