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Introduction: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

The History of D&I in the Workplace

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) entered the corporate scene in the late 1900s / early 2000s, “after a series of high-profile lawsuits rocked the financial industry” according to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on Why Diversity Programs Fail. However, D&I has become a much larger focal point for almost all organizations just in the last couple of years. The public murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked social unrest and demands for justice and accountability for the unequal treatment of minorities (individuals from historically underprivileged and underserved groups) across the world. Additional calls for companies to truly invest in identifying, appreciating, and uplifting all individuals, regardless of demographic, biological, or social identifiers, have led to some structural changes in the workplace; today, most organizations have a senior level executive in charge of Diversity & Inclusion, Culture, Belonging, Engagement, or something similar, but what does that mean, and are these terms interchangeable?

To understand how D&I plays out in the workplace, and what that means for organizational success, it’s important to recognize that while diversity and inclusion are related terms, they are not synonymous. HBR touches on the phenomenon – and pitfalls – of treating diversity and inclusion as one and the same in their article Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion. Further, a 2018 Gallup report details how the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are often conflated and asserts “recognizing that diversity and inclusion are very different things is the first step in the journey toward creating a uniquely diverse and inclusive culture.”

Diversity vs. Inclusion

Let’s first work to understand the importance of diversity in the workplace. Gallup defines diversity as recognizing “the full spectrum of human demographic differences” and this can include (but is not limited to) gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, religion, age, education level, socio-economic status, physical disability, neurodivergence, and family composition. Assessing the diversity of a workforce requires organizations to first decide which identifiers they will track (gender, race, religion, etc.), and then determine the actual numbers of employees across all levels and roles within the company. Tracking and assessing diversity can be a very analytical process with clear numbers and percentages.

Now, how does inclusion differ from diversity? While diversity measures objective variety across a group of individuals, inclusion measures how those individuals feel. Efforts to improve inclusion should track feelings of belonging, acceptance, feeling valued, feeling respected, and whether employees feel that they can be their authentic selves at work. HBR further clarifies that, “Diversity speaks to who is on the team, but inclusion focuses on who is really in the game.

The Takeaway:

Organizations who put all their efforts toward only increasing diversity – which is typically done through adjusting hiring practices – are making a huge mistake because they are ignoring the importance of inclusion as a separate but related initiative that leads to improved company culture, increased revenue, and increased innovation, as evidenced by McKinsey’s “Diversity Wins” report.

For more information on how your organization can create a robust and sustainable diversity and inclusion practice, please reach out to Level D&I Solutions for a specialized quote.

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