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How a Commitment to Diversity Makes Innovation Happen

Earlier this month, the world celebrated Ada Lovelace Day. You might never have heard of Ada Lovelace, but you probably benefit from her work every day. She was an English mathematician who worked closely with Charles Babbage on his early computer, the Analytical Engine. Because she designed the first algorithm intended to be executed by machine, she is often considered the world’s first computer programmer.

Can you believe she did this all the way back in 1843?

To celebrate Ada and women like her, Ada Lovelace Day was established in 2009. It’s an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – calling attention to women who are role models in their STEM careers, supporting women working in STEM, and encouraging girls to pursue their own STEM dreams.

What do women in STEM have to do with business? A lot.

STEM jobs are expected to grow 17 percent by 2018, potentially resulting in more than two million unfilled positions for engineers, mathematicians, computer experts, and scientists. Many of these positions are in business, and companies who want to attract the best STEM employees need to create a positive working environment for those employees, whether they are men or women.

Last week, I spoke at the World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) in Melbourne, Australia. Designing and implementing the powerful systems and solutions that move the world’s people from place to place requires a commitment to diversity and innovation that transcends a single-day celebration – we need to be committed to inclusion every day, every month, every year.

Executives interviewed by Forbes were asked whether they agreed that “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation.” Nearly half said they strongly agreed, and the total number of those who agreed was a whopping 85 percent. Diverse perspectives and experiences contribute directly to innovation. And innovation in STEM is what drives new inventions, new efficiencies, and solutions that benefit businesses and citizens alike.

So this month, take a moment to acknowledge a woman you know who works in STEM, or encourage a girl you know to explore STEM for herself. You never know: anyone might be the source of the next big innovation, providing an insight that is as vital to our day as Ada Lovelace’s insights were to hers.