Diversity and Inclusion – Why You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Diversity and inclusion. These words are so frequently used together that we may mistake them as the same thing. But while they are clearly related, diversity and inclusion are two different issues – and organizations must treat them as such.

In simple terms, diversity ensures that your workforce has a demographic blend that represents everyone. Inclusion, on the other hand, ensures that all people are treated fairly and made to feel welcome and valued. Or as Verna Myers, VP of Inclusion at Netflix, puts it: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” You see, there’s a subtle – but important – difference.

While diversity and inclusion are both important factors in building a fairer, more balanced workforce, many businesses focus on the former rather than the latter. This approach simply doesn’t work. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that inclusion should come before diversity. Here are four key points to consider.

1. Diversity doesn’t work without inclusion

Many businesses treat the issue of diversity as a numbers game, thinking that if they meet the right demographic quotas then their job is done. But without inclusion, efforts to make the workplace more diverse could backfire. What good is a statistically diverse workforce if some people face unfair treatment based on who they are?

The #MeToo movement is a good example of this – you can make gender diversity a top priority at all levels of business, but if women continue to be subjected to discrimination and harassment, you still have a major cultural issue on your hands.

Pushing diversity without first having a culture of inclusion is a case of putting the cart before the horse. When new policies are introduced before the cultural groundwork is in place, you end up with entirely new problems on your hands.

2. Inclusion is easier to define (but trickier to measure)

Diversity is about achieving a demographic blend that is representative of the whole of society. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it depends on what criteria you use to distinguish people. Do you go with gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, social background, sexuality, personality type, working style, or something else?

If your workforce is made up of a broad range of ethnicities but has no people over the age of 40, can it be considered diverse? The answer is both yes and no, depending on how you choose to measure diversity. As you can see, diversity is a tricky thing to pin down, and achieving it in all its manifestations is virtually impossible. By picking one criterion, you end up ignoring others.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is a relatively straightforward idea – at least on the face of it. It simply asks that all people are made to feel welcome and treated fairly. It ensures that nobody faces unfair treatment based on who they are.

The flip side is that inclusion is more difficult to measure. While most forms of diversity relate to characteristics that are easily categorized, making it easy to measure using employees’ personal data, inclusion relates to feelings, which are notoriously difficult to quantify.

3. Inclusion focuses on our similarities, not our differences

The pursuit of diversity requires us to label people based on their differences and then divide them into subgroups. Each person could be labelled and grouped differently, depending on which criteria you use to measure diversity. For example, I could be labelled as one of the following: white, male, millennial, straight, middle class, introvert, and so on.

This process of labelling encourages stereotyping. As you can see from my example, each different label groups me with a different set of people, lending itself to a completely different stereotype.

By prioritising inclusion, you treat everyone the same, regardless of their differences. There’s no need to categorise people, nor to draw conclusions based on what we know about them. This helps to break down the invisible barriers between people and debunks some of the unhelpful cultural stereotypes that result in bias and discrimination.

4. Inclusion is a human need

While it is important that the workplace contains a diverse range of people, inclusion is perhaps a more pressing issue from an emotional perspective. The feeling of being accepted, valued, and included is something that everyone needs. I’m sure we’ve all felt excluded at some time in our lives – and we all know that it feels awful. Nobody can thrive in an environment where they feel judged, looked down upon, or discriminated against.

If we put inclusion first, we can build an environment where everyone can thrive. When we feel included and accepted, we can be our true selves. The importance of this cannot be understated. Authenticity is a key ingredient in a happy, creative, and diverse workplace.

The bottom line

Diversity is an important issue for a couple of reasons. First, because the workplace should reflect the broad spectrum of society and not just a fraction of it. And second, because diverse teams are proven to be more successful than homogenous ones.

But without a culture of inclusion, diversity seems little more than a numbers game – and a complicated one at that. Alone, it cannot fix the cultural issues that make people feel disadvantaged or judged in the workplace due to stereotypes, prejudice, and bias. Businesses that focus on diversity but not inclusion risk relying on quotas and targets to fix an issue that is about feelings and emotions.

Instead, businesses should focus on making the workplace inclusive for everyone. This allows people to feel valued for who they are, helping to banish unhelpful stereotypes about what people or like, or what kind of jobs they are suited to. This way, inclusion naturally leads to greater diversity.


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com/

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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