Diversity in the Workplace
February 2009

In 2007 a survey of 1,000 members of the Canadian working population was undertaken. The results were nothing short of startling. Seventy-seven percent said they believed diversity led to innovation and a competitive advantage but less than 40% said that their companies were more diverse than they were 5 years ago. So why isn’t Canadian business putting its money where its mouth is?

“Not all Canadian companies understand the value of diversity and its competitive advantages,” said Hadi Mahabadi, vice-president and manager of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC), the company that released the survey. “In the global economy of the 21st century, innovation will only thrive with the shared ideas of individuals with different genders, generations, backgrounds, areas of expertise and life.”

Mahabadi firmly believes that the link between diversity and innovation is what’s made XRCC so successful. The centre’s research team represents over 35 different countries of origin.

“Having a more diverse group of researchers helps us to become innovative and more effective. Our experience indicated when you have diversity of thought, the solutions you come up with are much richer. You get better solutions.” says Mahabadi. “There’s a saying: when all things are alike, then no one’s thinking.”

Since the centre began in 1979, it’s racked up 1200 US patents and proudly boasts approximately 160 potentially commercial technology ideas every year and four novel scientific ideas per week. This has resulted in an impressive 40 to 60 patents annually. Five scientists alone have generated more than 100 patents each.

Mahabadi is quick to point out that if you look only at staff stats-how many, where they come from-there is a definite link between diversity and innovation. But that’s not the whole the story.

“Let’s say we’re trying to find a better toner for Xerox, it’s not a question of who came up with this idea or whether this idea came from an Asian or African. The best idea of what we are looking for is the answer,” Mahabadi explains. “So the more diversity you have, the more out-of-box thinking will take place in the brainstorming sessions. So people recognize from the beginning that all ideas are important.”

The Xerox Research Centre is proud of the fact that it’s created an environment where people feel free to express their other ideas and where those ideas are respected, no matter where they came from.

“This is why we are so successful,” Mahabadi says. “We, as a community here, think of our differences as a good thing. So we never consider differences, whether it’s difference in culture or difference in a way of thinking, as a barrier.”

Hiring, developing and promoting skilled international professionals in an integral part of the organization’s strategy. Nearly half the PhD scientists working at the centre are from somewhere else. Mahabadi included. He was born and raised in Iran.

“At the end of the day we have to hire the most qualified person. We never look to where this quality person is coming from,” Mahabadi says. “They have to be the best.”

And the Diversity Fuels Innovation survey proves that’s exactly what the Xerox Research Centre of Canada has: the best in the business.
“We are pleased to see that the survey’s findings validate the approach that has acted as the lynchpin to our own innovation success,” Mahabadi says. “Communicating this important message to all companies in Canada and helping them take advantage of this important success factor is the remaining challenge. There is still room to do more.”

Reference: Diversity in the Workplace