Diversity is Not Inclusion

Accountability Collaboration Teamwork


DiversityKey Point: Diversity in organizations is vital, but by itself it doesn’t mean inclusion. Enlightened organizations have been consciously pursuing proactive diversity strategies for at least the last 30 years. In many places, organizations have made great strides in acknowledging and celebrating diverse groups. In annual reports and elsewhere, institutions often proudly point to gender, racial and orientation statistics to demonstrate that the concept is alive and well. In fact, highly diverse workplaces can get complacent in moving to a whole new level by missing out on the ultimate value of diverse thinking. The key part of optimizing the full richness and broadest definition of diversity is INCLUSION. Google describes their inclusion tenant this way: “We strive to cultivate a wholly inclusive workplace everywhere we operate in the world. We want all Googlers to love coming to work every day, not just for their projects and the great perks, but for the inclusive culture where they can feel free to be themselves and thrive.”

Diversity is the mix. But INCLUSION is putting that mix to work. That is a powerful notion and takes individual and collective intention. At one level we have a long way to go. We can still get trapped staring at what’s ON someone’s head versus focusing on what’s IN someone’s head. And ALL of us (even those highly practiced in teaching diversity) have biases, often unconscious and deeply rooted. And furthermore, these biases exist as insidious, nuanced, nearly invisible micro-inequities like the joke about (you pick the group) that we know is really not funny. This is way beyond the defensive howl of, “oh that’s just ‘political correctness’.”

Embracing the incredible angles of diverse thinking in our organizations requires a much deeper understanding AND practice of what being inclusive means. This involves ridding the organization of fear. Organization safety must extend way beyond the steel-toed work boots and the defibrillator. It includes psychological safety so people, like Google says, “can feel free to be themselves and thrive.” On the other hand, being oneself and thriving means embracing a self-accountable responsibility to team members, the organization and others. It is not a ticket to act in hurtful ways under the guise of diversity and inclusivity.

You may think you are way beyond this blog, that you’re enlightened, and ultra hip with identity theory, diversity/inclusiveness. You may think this reflection is for other generations and not yours (especially if you’re a gen Y). HA! That’s what I thought too.

Character Moves:

  1. Recognize that being inclusive means accepting your imperfection and being humble. At the same time, if you continuously play the “political correctness excuse” in your head, be aware of where you really are on the inclusive journey. Find out. Take a self-diagnostic tool like the Intercultural Development Inventory. You will likely be surprised and challenged by the results to more consciously develop your inclusive skills. (PS… I have, and found it very useful )
  2. Appreciate that leadership and inclusiveness are not intuitive. It takes deep self-awareness and practice. Attending or recognizing the customs or celebrations of cultural groups is cool and necessary but NOT sufficient to lead with genuine inclusiveness.
  3. Recognize that all practices to improve inclusion will add to your leadership skills. Investment in your ability to be inclusive needs to be intentional while becoming an internalized part of your ethos.

Inclusive in the Triangle,