Why Diversity Matters But Inclusion Matters More

Before you can discuss diversity and inclusion and why there needs to be intentional emphasis in this area, let’s clarify the difference. In the broadest sense, diversity is anything that is used to differentiate one group from another – age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, military service, size, etc. Because classifying groups allows us to segment the groups, it could also be utilized to exclude one group from another. Inclusion, then, is an act to include one group with another. It is an action – whether intentional or accidental, to combine groups. Diversity is something you can quantify, count, number. Inclusion is often not measurable and is more behavioral. Thus, it is easy to talk about diversity – you either have it or you don’t. It is harder to talk about inclusion because diversity numbers alone do not define or ensure inclusion.

In the case of an organization’s workforce, one can identify the amount of diversity that exists by simply counting and summing the totals. However, it is much more difficult to examine whether that workforce is truly inclusive. High levels of diversity within the workforce might suggest inclusivity. But often, the only true measure is to survey and interview those who have previously been excluded. Large numbers of women, for example, in management positions might indicate diversity. But, are these women in positions of power? Do they have decision-making responsibilities? Can they hire and fire the personnel in their organization? Do they feel like they belong?

Why Does Diversity and Inclusion Matter?

The simple answer is it matters because organizations that are more diverse in their makeup outperform those that are less diverse. The McKinsey Global Institute, a global management consulting firm, conducted a research study in 2015 which found that organizations with gender diversity financially outperformed the industry median by 15% and organizations with ethnic diversity outperformed by 35%.

The Harvard Business Journal (HBJ) took the study further. They interviewed top CEOs around the globe and asked them what they thought about diversity and inclusion. The HBJ found several common threads:

  • A diverse workforce helps a company increase its touch with an increasingly diverse customer base.
  • Diverse CEOs who had experienced obstacles, sought to remove those barriers for others.
  • There was genuine disappointment in the lack of progress in C-Suite inclusion.
  • A diverse culture was important, but an inclusive one that allowed people to bring their authentic selves to the organization was viewed as most desirable.
  • Most common hindering factor to inclusivity was the lack of access by diverse talent to networks and “behind-closed-doors” conversations.

In some cases, studies have found not all lack of inclusivity is intentional. Some of it is just human nature. People are often most comfortable in talking and being with people like themselves. Organizations have to do a better job of encouraging and exposing team members to different cultures and ways of thinking in order to unseat the traditional business cliques.

Best Practices

So, how does inclusion happen in great organizations? Not easily. It is a journey that requires intentional thought and action. Recognized best practices in achieving an inclusive corporate culture include:

  • Make it personal. CEOs and leaders, who take diversity and inclusion personally, instill that same commitment into their leadership and employees. It isn’t about an initiative; it is about a way of life.
  • Measure. The old saying about “what gets measured gets done” holds true in Diversity and Inclusion, as well. If it is important to an organization, measurement and continual improvement are necessary.
  • Hold leaders accountable. Make sure leaders in the organization understand their role in achieving results. Make it a part of their overall management review. Tie results to their compensation. (Money does talk.) Encourage great role models – developing and promoting diversity, supporting diverse resource groups and recruiting diverse candidates.
  • Recruit diversity. The more you recruit it, the more opportunities there are to increase an organization’s diversity. Candidates want to see people who have achieved and who look like them.
  • Educate and train. Understanding other cultures doesn’t just happen. A course in Unconscious Bias demonstrates that everyone has biases. Once we recognize that, it is easier to think and do something about it.
  • Make the Chief Diversity Officer position count. Make them an integral part of the leadership team with responsibilities, demonstrating their impact top and bottom line performance – because they do.

Diversity and inclusion create better organizations – with strong financials, talent, customer service, innovation, market share and more. It takes leaders committed to creating a diverse organization who require others to follow their lead. It may be a challenge, but diversity and inclusion do matter.