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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

The Diversity Dividend: Inclusive Leadership Drives Innovation and Growth

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Diversity in the workplace is not just a buzzword or a politically correct term. It is a fundamental principle that contributes to the success and growth of any company. As someone who has had the privilege of working with people from different backgrounds and cultures throughout my career, I can attest to the immense value of diversity in a team.

In my more than 30 years of service in the Italian Navy, I had the opportunity to work with individuals from different countries, cultures, and languages. This experience opened my eyes to the richness and diversity of human experiences and perspectives. It taught me that the best solutions to complex problems often come from a diverse group of people who bring different ideas, approaches, and experiences to the table.

One of the highlights of my career was attending the NATO Defense College in 2009-2010, where I worked alongside professionals from different countries, also outside NATO (Iraq, Bahrain, and more). The experience was truly transformative, and it taught me valuable lessons on leadership, teamwork, and cultural sensitivity. I learned to appreciate the different strengths and weaknesses of my colleagues and to leverage them to achieve our common goals. We shared our experiences, perspectives, and ideas, and we learned from each other in ways that would not have been possible if we had all come from the same background.

Also, in 2018-2019, I had the privilege of attending the US National Defense University alongside more than 70 foreign students from different countries and industries. The experience was equally enriching, and it reinforced my belief in the power of diversity and inclusion. We shared our ideas and perspectives, and we learned to appreciate each other's differences and similarities. We challenged each other's assumptions and biases, and we grew as individuals and as a team.

The National Defense University class of 2019, with students coming from more than 70 countries. The Students are posing for a picture in front of a red-brick wall. Students are aligned in 8 rows, with the first row  seated and the other standing on a stairway.
The National Defense University class of 2019, with students coming from more than 70 countries. Spot the coach!


Diversity and inclusion go beyond social justice or corporate responsibility. They are essential elements of good leadership and good business practice. Here is a list of benefits companies could experience from being more inclusive:

  1. Increased creativity and innovation: A diverse team brings together different perspectives, experiences, and ideas. This diversity of thought can lead to more creative solutions and innovative ideas that would not have been possible otherwise. A Boston Consulting Group study highlighted that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher innovation revenue than companies with below-average diversity.

  2. Improved decision-making: A diverse team can bring a wider range of knowledge and expertise to the decision-making process. This diversity of skills and experiences can lead to better-informed decisions that take into account a broader range of perspectives.

  3. Enhanced customer service: Customers come from different backgrounds and cultures, and having a diverse workforce can help companies better understand and serve their customers' needs. Companies that value diversity are more likely to have employees who are culturally sensitive and able to communicate effectively with customers from different backgrounds.

  4. Increased employee engagement and retention: Employees are more likely to feel valued and engaged when they see that their employer values diversity and inclusion. A diverse workforce can also help reduce turnover by providing career development and growth opportunities. A study by Glassdoor found that job applicants are 30% more likely to apply for a job at a company that has a diverse workforce, and 45% of job seekers say that a lack of diversity would make them less likely to apply for a job. Also, a survey by PwC highlighted that employees are more likely to be satisfied and engaged in their work when they feel their company is committed to diversity and inclusion. In fact, 77% of respondents said that a diverse and inclusive workplace culture was important to them.

  5. Improved reputation and brand image: Companies that value diversity and inclusion are seen as more socially responsible and are more attractive to customers, investors, and potential employees.

  6. Increased profitability: Studies have shown that companies with more diverse workforces are more likely to outperform their competitors financially. This is likely due to the increased creativity, innovation, and improved decision-making that comes from a diverse team. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. Similarly, companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on their executive teams are 36% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.


While diversity in the workplace brings many benefits, it also presents some challenges that need to be addressed.

One of the most significant challenges of diversity in the workplace is managing cultural differences. When people from different backgrounds and cultures come together, there is a risk of miscommunication, misunderstandings, and conflicts. For example, different cultures may have different communication styles, values, and norms that can lead to misunderstandings and tensions. Leaders must be aware of these differences and provide training and support to their teams to promote cultural sensitivity and understanding.

Another challenge of diversity is overcoming unconscious bias. We all have biases, whether conscious or unconscious, that can affect how we perceive and interact with people from different backgrounds. Unconscious bias can lead to discrimination, exclusion, and a lack of diversity in leadership positions. Leaders must be aware of their biases and take steps to mitigate them, such as by implementing blind recruitment processes or providing unconscious bias training.

Diversity can also bring challenges in terms of team cohesion and collaboration. When people come from different backgrounds, they may have different working styles, preferences, and ways of approaching tasks. This can make it challenging to work together effectively as a team. Leaders must foster a culture of respect, empathy, and collaboration where everyone's unique contributions are valued and appreciated. They must also provide support and training to their teams to promote effective teamwork and collaboration.

Finally, diversity can pose challenges in terms of legal and regulatory compliance. Companies must comply with various laws and regulations related to diversity, such as equal employment opportunity laws and affirmative action requirements. Leaders must be aware of these laws and regulations and take steps to ensure that their company is compliant.


I know. The list of challenges seems quite long. However, consider the great benefits you can have from being open to inclusion and diversity. The diversity dividend can really drive innovation and growth. It can also be beneficial on a personal level. Having relationships with people from all around the world led me to be more open-minded and understanding toward other cultures, beliefs, and approaches to life.

Leaders have the responsibility to create a workplace culture that values and respects diversity and promotes inclusion. This involves more than just hiring people from different backgrounds. It involves creating a respectful, empathetic, and collaborative culture where everyone feels valued and supported. It involves providing training on cultural sensitivity, unconscious bias, and inclusive leadership. It involves listening to different perspectives and being open to new ideas and approaches.

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