When the subject arises, managers and CEOs often speak of diversity and inclusion in the workplace together. Diversity and inclusion have come to represent two sides of the same coin, as they should. But all too often, too much emphasis is placed on the diversity aspect with the assumption that inclusion will follow. But is this really true? Does diversity in the workplace naturally lead to an inclusive culture? What about inclusion-focused managers? If the attention is on inclusion, does diversity organically develop? Few would argue that both diversity and inclusion in the workplace are important. However, examining which one is the greater priority can help businesses better position themselves for success.
What is Diversity and Inclusion?
Let’s start with diversity. Diversity simply means a workplace that has diverse members with different characteristics. These characteristics can be group together based on demographics, experiences, and even individual perspectives. For example, demographic diversity describes people of different races, ethnicities, gender, socioeconomic backgrounds, age, and other personal attributes. Diversity in experiences involves the different paths that people have taken through life. And varied perspectives can include diversity of thought, beliefs, and opinions. Why is this important? Because research shows team diversity in the workplace can boost performance by as much as 35 percent!
Defining inclusion is also fairly straightforward. Inclusion is simply a workplace that makes everyone feel included in business activities. They feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute and express their own views and opinions. Having an inclusive workplace has powerful effects also. Studies show that inclusion doubles your business’ chance to reach its financial targets. Likewise, inclusive businesses are 8 times more likely to achieve their goals. Clearly, diversity and inclusion are both important to businesses in today’s marketplace. If nothing else, the performance statistics cited drive diversity and inclusion as key attributes that managers want in their firms.
Diversity Without Inclusion
While diversity and inclusion are combined goals for businesses, achieving these goals can be elusive. For many businesses, managers and CEOs assume a diverse workplace will naturally foster an inclusive one. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. Certainly, diversity brings heterogeneity and variety to the table. But without an inclusive attitude, staff may be hesitant or even fearful to contribute new ideas and views. Being diverse is one thing, but being accepted for one’s diversity is another. Both diversity and inclusion are essential to realize business success in today’s industries.
Too many businesses today focus on achieving diversity numbers in an effort to boost performance. Diversity simply becomes a targeted cost center for the firm rather than a means to develop a creative culture. Other firms seek diversity as part of their compliance objectives or public relations goals. These firms are missing the point, too. Having employees from different backgrounds, thoughts, and experiences is important. At the same time, a business environment that invites sharing these differences is essential. Diversity and inclusion should go hand-in-hand to maximize a business’ potential. But simply investing in diversity alone does not mean an inclusive workplace will follow.
Inclusion Without Diversity
When pursuing diversity and inclusion, managers may find it easier to hire diversity than achieve an inclusive environment. However, some businesses do achieve inclusive cultures without focusing on employee diversity at all. These situations can cause major problems. In workplaces that lack diversity, groupthink can become commonplace. The “group” makes decisions by consensus, and individuality is never expressed. In time, the same approaches are used over and over again, even if they are not entirely effective. And in the process, business performance and the firm’s competitive advantage decline.
Managers who create workplace environments where everyone feels included and respected is important. This encourages employees to be engaged and participate. But when barriers to diversity exist, the same ideas and perspectives resurface over and over again. No creativity, no innovation, no challenge to the status quo. This is why managers must focus on both diversity and inclusion in the workplace. When both diversity and inclusion exist, employees and the firm enjoy tremendous opportunities to grow and excel.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace – A Whole Greater Than the Sum
When examining diversity and inclusion, identifying which one should come first is difficult. It is clearly a chicken and egg sort of problem. Diversity without inclusion is like a champion fighter locked in a room unable to attend the fight. Inclusion without diversity lets the fighter out of the room only to find the fight doesn’t exist. Diversity invites differences that foster innovation and creativity through conflict and resolution. Inclusion invites the opportunity for these differences to be shared and expressed. When both diversity and inclusion are present, the results are incredible. But one does not guarantee the other. To reap the rewards, businesses must focus on both diversity and inclusion simultaneously.