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Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in an Innovation Economy

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Created on May 26, 2016

There has recently been an overwhelming spike in attention to the lack of diversity in the innovation economy in the United States. Unfortunately, it is common to see this string of words illuminated under a negative light. For the past several years, industries that are the economic drivers for growth in the United States have made up the innovation economy.

In fact, in 2016 the term “economy” could also be interchangeable with “innovation economy,” as the most profitable industries fall in this sector. These industries that include technology (i.e. health, digital, information, etc.), materials science, and computing lack both gender and racial diversity. With the changing demographic in the United States and the Census Bureau projecting that we will become a majority-minority nation in 2044, there is an urgent and critical need to embrace diversity and inclusion in the innovation economy. If not, the United States will continue to face negative economic and social consequences due to increased inequality and widening of the wealth gap.

Our nation must unleash its potential to reap benefits from its competitive advantage of being home to a large, multicultural talent pool of varied skills. Recognizing the importance of diversity in the innovation economy will allow for planned workforce development initiatives and policy changes that lead to inclusive growth, widespread economic gains, and more equitable wealth creation.

One of the best strategies to ensure that the New America includes minority entrepreneurs at all stages of the innovation economy, is to target youth, adolescents, and young adults. Minority youth entrepreneurship and workforce development programs that focus on STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) are smart investments. The arts are important in equipping these youth with skills to succeed because of the significant role emotional intelligence plays throughout our lives. It is critical that the rising minority youth population gain early exposure and access not only to education, but also to professional and career opportunities. This early exposure is vital to validating entrepreneurship as a viable and rewarding pathway that can sustainably empower individuals, families, and communities to innovate, create jobs, and build a stronger nation.

The rhetoric of entrepreneurship, both within and surrounding minority communities, as an afterthought or alternative to unemployment must change.

Instead, it is important to design programs that foster close collaboration and lasting relationships through mentorship and sponsorship to present even more opportunities for minority entrepreneurs to excel in an innovation economy. Once this is achieved, minority entrepreneurs will share the onus of perpetuating and committing to diversity and inclusion in their own ventures for greater positive impact.