Innovation Gaps: Workforce Diversity and Innovation

As MNEs face greater uncertainty and risk in the era of “the new normal,” the need for innovation becomes more salient (McNamee, 2004; Mike, 2013). This is due to the fact that the new normal in the business environment challenges the status quo or business-as-usual; instead, it requires new approaches or different perspectives to deal with uncertainty. In this regard, diverse workforces, rather than just limited to traditional homogeneous expatriates, can bring thinking beyond the status quo and diverse perspectives to IAs that encourage innovation (Gossling & Rutten, 2007; Niebuhr, 2010; Nieto & Santamaria, 2007; Nelson & Winter, 1982, Schumpeter, 1934).

Diversity not only can promote innovation itself, but also accelerate the diffusion of innovation with its rich networks. Over the past few decades, innovation researchers have consistently demonstrated that innovations spread through interpersonal communication networks (Rogers, 1962, 2010; Valente & Rogers, 1995). In this regard, diverse workforces can bring a wide range of diffusion chains to IAs. Indeed, according to the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF, 2016) , an increasing number of MNEs have formally recognized business networks (or employee resource groups) for their diverse workforces, including women, LGBT, and so on. In particular, 78 percent of respondent MNEs have business networks across the globe for diverse workforces, and 85 percent have them for LGBT employees; as a result, MNEs increase the probability of broader and more rapid innovation spurts. Moreover, the diffusion of the innovation, in turn, leads to continuous innovations, such as incremental improvements and complementary investments.

With respect to workforce diversity in IAs as a significant driver of innovation, Miralles-Vazquez and McGaughey (2016) pointed out the importance of organizational contexts. Nevertheless, while there is significant research on traditional expatriate management and adjustment, little research addresses the experiences of non-traditional talents in the IA. To date, even fewer attempts to describe non-traditional expatriates have relied on sound conceptual frameworks and thus much research is needed (Gedro, 2012).

While discussing non-traditional expatriates’ international work experiences, this paper emphasizes the need to broaden our lens from a rather narrowly focused view of traditional expatriates to include non-traditional expatriates. The need for worldwide talent demands no less. Two decades ago, Mamman and Richards (1996) insisted that expatriate research should be broadened to embrace more diverse expatriate characteristics; the time has now come with urgency since MNEs worldwide experience talent shortage. Given global talent gaps in today’s innovation-based economy, we assert that non-traditional expatriates will be a valuable source of talent for MNEs that promote both innovation and productivity.

Among diverse groups of non-traditional expatriates, this study focuses particularly on LGBT expatriates, because sexual orientation diversity is a provocative issue transcending expatriation into talent acquisition and filtering through all aspects of societies today from legal, social, and identity diversity; it has taken on center stage in the quest for talent, yet it remains under-researched (Bell et al., 2011). Therefore, we believe this study is timely and important.

 
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