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Divorcing diversity and inclusion

Feb 01, 2019

We tend to use the words diversity and inclusion interchangeably; however, they have very different meanings and impacts in the workplace:

Diversity is about valuing difference, including ethnicity, gender, cognitive style, education and socio-economic status.

Inclusion is the deliberate act of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where all different kinds of people can thrive and succeed.

Many companies are discovering that, without inclusion, their efforts to increase diversity fail to deliver the desired results, sometimes even creating a whole new range of issues. Inclusion is the only way to embed diversity within an organisation. Without deliberate action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are wasted.

How can you quantify diversity and inclusion?

It’s relatively easy to measure diversity: usually, it’s a matter of data. However, quantifying feelings of inclusion is much more difficult. For a start, it’s a subjective term, but understanding the narrative alongside the data is crucial for companies.

The Society for Human Resources Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success”.

Or, as Verna Myers, puts it: “Diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”.

How can diversity and inclusion be implemented effectively in the workplace?

The role of senior management is to create the right conditions, set the tone from the top, educate people and empower them to act; make them accountable and trust them to do the right thing. This often means that an organisation's culture needs to change in order to allow diverse employees to coalesce and flourish

The best people to change an organisation’s culture are the employees. Give them an opportunity to identify what is typical in their culture and open a dialogue of sharing, learning and understanding.

The hiring process is usually the first interaction a potential employee has with an organisation. This experience will lead them to conclude whether the company is genuinely inclusive, or if it’s just interested in virtue signalling. Too many companies fall at this first hurdle: conventional recruitment procedures are often impossible to navigate for candidates. Similarly, online forms and recruitment software, ironically credited with making more equitable decisions, can exclude categories of applicants because they do not meet standardised recruitment criteria.

To encourage the widest possible pool of applicants, consider the process from several perspectives – for example, neuro-diverse, visually- or hearing-impaired candidates.

Other initiatives which can have significant impacts include:

  • gender-neutral bathrooms;
  • using gender-neutral language;
  • using inclusive imagery and references in marketing and communications materials – for example, same-sex couples, mixed-race families, different ethnicities; and
  • recognising and respecting other religious and cultural holidays celebrated by employees.

Policies are important to underpin diversity and equality initiatives, but every day interactions – conscious and unconscious – are what employees judge.

Finally, proactively have discussions and encourage input and feedback at all levels across the organisation. Why wait until someone is uncomfortable or unhappy before taking action?

Dawn Leane is the founder of Leane Leaders.