Robert D. Hormats
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Marshall Center
Washington, DC
June 7, 2012

Thank you Nancy for your kind introduction. And thank you for the invitation to join today’s event on “Diversity, Inclusion, and Foreign Policy.”

Supporting diversity in the State Department, the wider government, and the private sector increases the success of U.S. foreign policy and strengthens the economic advantage of the United States for a multitude of reasons.

Looking at today’s schedule, I’m confident that many others have already touched upon this. Hence, I’d like to focus briefly on a small subset of this issue: the role of diversity in innovation, which is central to America’s competiveness, economic growth, and overall national security.

Even before our nation’s founding, we’ve been a land inhabited by diverse peoples. According to the excellent book by Russell Shorto, titled “The Island at the Center of the World,” in the 1640’s, the 500 colonists living in New Amsterdam—which, of course, later became New York—communicated in 18 different languages.

According to some experts, New York is now home to as many as 800 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. Multilingualism and cultural, racial, social, and ethnic diversity—both within our government and private sector—is a dynamic characteristic of the American “melting pot,” and a key driver of our economic success. Immigration of people from around the world is an essential part of this as it had been in the 1600’s.

Knowledge and respect for different races, languages, ethnicities, cultures, and ways of thinking reinforces our creative capacities. This, in turn, allows us to think creatively or as some term it, “outside of the box.”

The value-add by diversity results from the varying perspectives that come from opening our minds to folks of different genders, races, ages, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic situations—basically every characteristic that makes us unique thinkers. When it comes to innovation, diversity has enormous value.

Diversity alone, however, isn’t by itself enough to drive innovation. Ideas and talent—regardless of their origin—have to evaluated based on merit. American is, and has always been, a meritocracy. Thomas Jefferson called this country “a natural aristocracy among men”—and, of course, I would add women—based on virtue and talents, rather than genealogy and inheritance.

The invention of the television in the early twentieth century is my favorite example of talent coming from unexpected places and the value of diversity of thought.

While working on his father’s Idaho farm, a 14-year old boy named Philo Farnsworth saw in the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field a way for scanning an electronic image as a series of horizontal lines. Up until then, RCA and other companies had employed teams of engineers and physicists in an unsuccessful effort to find a way to electronically transmit an image. Philo’s breakthrough turned out to be the missing piece of the puzzle that allowed the television to come to fruition.

Governments and companies that restrict the exchange of diverse ideas will find themselves isolated, and out of touch with the global networks that drive innovation. And, they’ll find themselves cut off from the ideas and talents of their people.

The United States attracts large numbers of skilled women and men from many countries as a direct result of our respect for diversity. We’ve benefited immensely from their talents.

Foreign-born entrepreneurs were involved in one-fourth of all high-tech start-ups in the United States between 1995 and 2005, including Google and eBay. Imagine for a moment the loss to the U.S. economy if we had closed ourselves off from their contributions.

I’ll end with a quote by David Ogilvy—the “Father of Advertising”—which in my view says it all: “Diversity turns out to be the mother of invention (not necessity, as the mechanists thought).”

Thank you for your participation today and for your efforts in advancing diversity; understanding that diversity is what helped to make this country great; and it is diversity that will help lead us to the technological breakthroughs that will ensure American leadership in the twenty-first century.