While there’s research that diverse teams can help drive innovation, there’s a catch: diverse teams are not always supported and set up to produce diverse innovations. The reasons for this are complex, but it comes down to this: Some team members — such as historically marginalized groups — are often granted less power and influence in key innovation processes than others.
At Intuit, diversity isn’t just something we do; it’s part of who we are. A diverse workforce that reflects our millions of customers is key to the empathy needed to solve our customers’ problems and create innovative solutions that delight them. We wanted to do more to better understand this phenomenon.
Intuit partnered with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), a nonprofit that works to get more girls and women in computing. We sponsored a study that puts technology teams under the microscope in order to understand what causes this tilt in power away from minority groups, as well as how it impacts innovation. We’re also building a tool to help tech organizations assess these power tilts and take actions to remedy them with the goal of enhancing innovation.
The study itself is titled “Powertilt: Examining Power, Influence, and the Myth of Meritocracy Within Technology Teams.” It was based on a survey of 265 technical professionals in a range of job levels, from individual contributors to executives and presents key findings that identifies team members’ perceptions of what characteristics and behaviors make someone more or less influential.
It’s no coincidence that most of the technology that so profoundly shapes our world is created by a relatively homogenous slice of the population — a slice that’s disproportionately white and male. And although most companies now recognize that this lack of diversity is both a social justice problem and a business problem, the strategy of simply increasing diverse headcount doesn’t cut to the heart of the issue.
Here are six tangible ways to build a culture with inclusive forms of power and influence
- Pay attention to competitive versus collaborative dynamics — focus on being open to others’ perspectives over the need to be right.
- Be mindful of turn-taking, pay attention to who gets interrupted, and ensure all voices are heard in meetings.
- Foster a growth mindset within a team culture.
- Solicit opinions of quieter team members either before, during, or after meetings.
- Notice when someone repeats an earlier-stated idea and ensure that credit is given where due.
- Employ meeting structures that foster broader participation (For example, ensure all team members take turns sending agendas or determine key decision points ahead of the meeting).
Why focus on teams?
Because research shows that teams tend to be the epicenters of technical innovation. The study zeroes in on team culture — defined as a shared set of defining norms, values, and practices — and team decision-making. It is team culture that shapes power and influence, which in turn reinforces the kind of culture a team has.
The study finds that a majority of biases play into the ways team members access influence — for example, in task assignment, sponsorship, and access to networks. It concludes that addressing these biases can help remove barriers that prevent people from marginalized groups from getting key opportunities to shine and create the track records of success needed to support their influence.
Changing your team culture to help give diverse individuals more influence
The study spotlights the mismatch between our aspirations to be more influential and the difficulties in achieving it. Awareness of this mismatch is a crucial first step in creating inclusive cultures that foster broader access to influence.
To quote the study on this issue: “Research shows that women and members from marginalized racial/ethnic groups are more frequently interrupted and critiqued for their tone, style, or personality than majority-group members engaged in similar behavior.”
Allyship has never been more important and requires action and commitment from everyone. While the six tools offered above may seem like small changes, research shows they can make a significant difference in employees’ daily work experience. They can also significantly improve employees’ ability to contribute in meaningful ways to team decisions and how we might create environments that foster more inclusive forms of power and influence, which can lead to more innovation.
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