Why Inclusion Is the Key Ingredient for Innovation

Learn about the business case for inclusivity from Anka Wittenberg, one of PCMA’s Ascent Luminaries. The Luminaries series, made possible by VisitDallas, is part of the PCMA Convene Ascent initiative, which seeks to promote inclusion and diversity across the business events industry.

By David McMillin

Innovation. It’s a mantra that echoes in the halls of every office. And in the events industry, innovation is a constant watchword. Organizers are always chasing the power of change. How can the environment evolve to capture attendee attention? What techniques can transform education sessions to make them more meaningful? Are there opportunities to change up networking receptions to better connect people?

You can’t find those answers and ride the wave of creativity through one inspired meeting planner or CEO, though, however talented they may be. According to economist Anka Wittenberg, economist and former SAP global chief diversity and inclusion officer, you can only arrive at innovative ideas when you bring different kinds of thinkers together.

“There is a strong business case for a culture of inclusion,” Wittenberg told me when I interviewed her for PCMA’s Ascent Luminaries series. “Companies that embrace diversity and inclusion best practices are six times more likely to be able to cope with change, and they are six times more likely to be more innovative.”

In an era defined by disruption and technological breakthroughs, Wittenberg pointed out that the ability to adapt is essential. “We all need to cope with exponential change,” Wittenberg said. “To do that, we need different perspectives and different skill sets.”

Championing the Power of Different Abilities

During her time at SAP, Wittenberg helped launch a new initiative called SAP Autism at Work, which aims to help individuals who have been diagnosed with autism find employment opportunities. Rather than looking at the disorder as a disability, Wittenberg emphasized that these individuals have different abilities. “People with autism bring special skills,” Wittenberg said when the program launched in 2013. “Autistic people have a particularly strong sense of visual perception, which among other things is very useful when testing software.”

Looking for additional proof of Wittenberg’s business case for welcoming everyone? At SAP, one autistic employee (the company has already hired more than 100) helped develop a technical fix that the company estimates is worth $40 million. The company wants to attract and nurture similar talent. SAP has a goal to make one percent of its workforce neurodiverse by 2020.

Wittenberg’s insights can help organizations rethink the way they recruit and retain employees to create a culture where all genders, ethnicities, and minds can feel engaged, empowered, and excited to make an impact. That’s why she is part of the inaugural class of PCMA Ascent Luminaries — the leaders who are championing diversity in business events. Watch the video below for more knowledge from Wittenberg.

The Ascent Luminaries video series is sponsored by VisitDallas. For more on Ascent, go to PCMA.org/ascent.

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