It can be easy to mix these terms up sometimes. But we are here to tell you that diversity and inclusion are two very different things – and your business needs both of them to thrive. 

It has been confirmed again and again, how important diversity is to any organization. In addition to giving every individual the chance to shine, regardless of gender, race, age or sexuality, this multiplicity of voices and experiences around the table makes every organization stronger. We see the HR checklists, diversity league tables and growing numbers of Diversity Champions appearing across major brands. But what does diversity really mean? And isn’t inclusion just another word for it? And should you be concerned about your own organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts 

To answer all those burning questions, and more, here is some helpful information you need to know, but were too scared to ask for, about diversity, inclusion and everything in between. 

What We Mean When We Talk About Diversity 

According to The Professional Leadership Institute, diversity in the workplace begins with individual differences like race, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, and cognitive ability. More recently, the definition has extended to broader cultural and personal factors like education, marital status, and political beliefs. To be considered truly diverse, organizations must employ individuals with a range of these characteristics. You may have 70% women in your organization, but if all those women are young, white, and fresh out of Ivy League schools, your team is not as diverse as it could be. True diversity means ensuring as many different characteristics as possible are thoroughly represented in your organization so that everyone has a place and a broad range of viewpoints informing their decision-making. 

But isn’t all that just the same as inclusion? 

Actually, no. If diversity is the doorway, inclusion is everything waiting on the other side. Before you can even begin to think about achieving true inclusivity, you need to first focus on building a diverse workforce. But just because individuals with diverse characteristics work for your company, it doesn’t mean they feel truly included. Inclusion means ensuring all employees are seen and fairly treated in all aspects of the workplace experience. From making sure employees from all backgrounds have the same promotion prospects, to empowering them to speak their minds and engage with decision-makers. In short – creating a workplace that encourages diverse employees to stick around. Inclusion doesn’t just happen because you have a diverse team, and it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. As hard as it is to build a truly diverse workforce, it is only the first step toward creating a truly inclusive working environment. This, in turn, is the hidden ingredient to ensuring your diverse workforce stays diverse. It’s an achievement and something employers work hard to achieve. 

A Diverse and Inclusive Company is a Successful Company 

According to Catalyst, companies with the highest representation of women vastly outperformed companies with the lowest representation. In fact, these companies outperformed their counterparts by 35 percent in return on equity and 34 percent in total return to shareholders. We all know that when our shareholders are happy, we have a greater ability to perform and grow. 

How does racial and ethnic diversity come into play? According to McKinsey & Company, companies in the top 25 percent for racial and ethnic diversity regularly outperform industry medians in terms of financial returns. This study also found above-average returns for companies that do well with gender diversity. 

If you want to outperform and grow your organization, investing in diversity is a clear way to connect with today’s generation (which is more diverse than ever) and build your business. 

Diversity and inclusion (or D&I) bring a variety of voices to the table. That way, leaders can make better business decisions and avoid damaging their reputations with tone-deaf ads or products. 

The Evolution of Diversity and Inclusion 

Diversity and inclusion have changed a lot over the years. You may have heard terms like DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) or DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging). All of these evolutions are necessary to solidify what diversity and inclusion hope to accomplish. 

For example, equity was brought into the conversation to help others understand that everyone needs different levels and types of support to contribute successfully. You may have seen the famous illustration that shows the difference between equality (giving everyone the same support) and equity (giving support to those who need it most).  

As the conversation around diversity and inclusion evolves, the message’s core is the same – making sure that people feel supported wherever they are. 

Once you’ve built a diverse team, how do you retain diverse team members? 

It can take years of hard work to instill genuine diversity and inclusion into an organization. On the other hand, it takes remarkably little time to undo all of this hard work and wind up in a worse position than when you started. 

For example, a 2017 Aon study uncovered the “pet to threat” phenomenon many women face in the workplace. After initially being supported and encouraged, women may be perceived as a threat once they gain more experience and become more confident in their roles. At this point they often find themselves shut down and shut out of the decision-making process. This kind of fair-weather D&I dabbling may seem to work in the short-term, but ultimately if your diverse workforce remains conspicuously absent from the boardroom (that is before they leave all together!) you slide right back to square one… or maybe even ‘Go To Jail’! In extreme cases, it could make your whole brand seem toxic. 

Maintaining true D&I requires constant work and buy-in from senior management downwards. It is not enough to post a statement or throw donations to non-profit organizations. First, you have to admit that your company could do better, then you have to educate yourself and create a path forward that address previous shortcomings, and then you have to keep doing the work. Your employees are counting on you. 

Examples of D&I in the Workplace 

Establishing the most effective diversity and inclusion program can be a challenge. Take things one step at a time and implement some of these examples first. 

Re-evaluating Your Hiring Practices 

Another example of D&I in the workplace is taking the time to re-evaluate your hiring practices. There is a chance that some of your hiring practices don’t lead to diversity and inclusion for minority groups. Here are some changes you can make to your hiring practices today. 

  • Use inclusive language on job applications. 
  • Remove unnecessary required skills (studies show women tend to only apply to jobs if they meet 100% of the qualifications). 
  • Remove names from applications if possible. 
  • Implement diverse interview panels in the hiring process. 
  • Take stock of the current diversity in your staff by department, management, age range, etc. 
  • Use a predetermined rubric during hiring to even the playing field. 

Creating Expansive Training Programs 

Employee training is key to creating a truly diverse workplace. Employee training programs can sometimes feel like an afterthought, but they don’t have to be. Work with a consultant or lean on resources like Harvard’s Implicit Bias test hub to build a program that your employees can turn to often. Once you get diverse employees, you need to do the work to retain them. 

Training your employees on diversity, inclusion, bias, and equity are great first steps to creating a diverse workforce. Make sure that your employees take these resources seriously and keep diversity and inclusion top of mind as they are connecting with colleagues. 

Employee Resource Groups 

Employee resource groups are a wonderful addition to company culture. They help your employees grow and navigate the workplace. 

Encourage your employees to create resource groups and give them the time and resources needed to thrive in your organization. Investing in these spaces can lift up your entire company. 

Final Thoughts on Diversity and Inclusion 

Diversity and inclusion are an integral part of work today. The bottom line is that we live in a world that’s only going to get more diverse. Our workplaces need to be a reflection of the society that our employees live in. At the end of the day, diversity builds strong and profitable organizations. 

Do you want to learn more about how to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Download our white paper on diversity intelligence.