There is much written about diversity and inclusion. While highly related, I believe they are two entirely different concepts. Let’s start with where I see the difference.
- Diversity is an ethos. Diversity programs aim to create awareness and establish acceptable practices. If successful, a company’s culture embraces people from all walks of life and sees the value of representing different groups. One important thing to recognize is that diversity is an outcome or an element culture, not an action.
- Inclusion is a behaviour. Inclusion on the other hand is an action. My view is that inclusion is how diversity outcomes are fully realized. There are lots of people who talk a big diversity game but are not inclusive. That doesn’t mean diversity efforts are wasted, it just means that further work is required to achieve the goal.
There is a big payoff to getting this right. Companies who are highly evolved in terms of diversity reap significant rewards. They are 35% more likely to financially outperform their industry peers (McKinsey) and generate up to 13 times more cash flow per employee (Bersin). In her book Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Burnett cited research demonstrating that gender equality would increase the U.S. GDP by 26 percent. Big numbers!
Differentiate with diversity and inclusion. Bersin notes that mature, high-performing companies weave diversity and inclusion into leadership development programs, performance management and succession planning. It is part of daily life. These studies show that a company’s approach to diversity and inclusion is a true differentiator.
Inclusion is more powerful than diversity. In my opinion, both inclusivity and diversity are required to ensure broad representation with all people feeling seen, heard and understood. Inclusion is based on seeing people first as people, not as their race, gender, age, disability, etc. Children are highly inclusive with other genders and races without the need for a diversity program. If you truly include somebody, you are focusing on how to help them grow or meet their highest priority needs. While diversity programs may help create a framework, non-inclusive behaviour such as unconscious bias in interviews or a non-inclusive onboarding process will undermine diversity every time.
Leaders can influence change. So what can leaders do? I recently asked colleagues at Mobify that question. A common theme was the benefit of having prominent leaders as effective allies. The first step in being an effective ally is to educate ourselves about the real challenges people face. As a result of my white male privilege, I have not been subjected to non-inclusion based on my gender or race. To be a truly effective ally, I recognize that I have work to do.
Find an inclusivity partner. I was able to expedite my learning by finding an inclusivity partner. This helped improve my awareness of gender-related inclusivity challenges and the parallels to other types of non-inclusion. My homework was listening to the “Stuff Mom Never Told You” podcast and reading Feminist Fight Club, a book about women’s experience in the workplace. I gained immediate insights that help me show up as the leader I want to be.
Identify, and then eliminate, inclusivity blindspots. The majority of Fortune 500 leaders are white men: 72% in fact. In order for companies to achieve their well-crafted diversity objectives, the “72%” has to recognize that privilege significantly biases their perspective. While many of these leaders truly support diversity, creating awareness of inclusivity blindspots would make them more effective. Tangible examples in the context of gender would be embracing a diversity of communication styles or not interrupting your female colleagues. By focusing on current behaviours we can start the journey of conscious personal growth.
As Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”. Diversity and inclusivity are based upon core principles of equality, respect and human dignity. This works starts with each of us.
Who and how will you include today?