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The Risks of Confusing Inclusion With Diversity in the Workplace

The Risks of Confusing Inclusion With Diversity in the Workplace

Inclusion and Diversity in the Workplace is the topic of the first article in a series. Please note that any underrepresented groups inside an organisation are referred to as minorities in this article.

There are a plethora of phrases used these days to promote workplace justice. The majority of organisations have top level executives in charge of equity, engagement, culture, belonging, fairness, etc., but the word "diversity and inclusion" (D&I) is the most frequently used. It sounds fantastic, but what does it actually mean? Are these ideas the same, distinct, or complementary to one another? Truth be told, far too many businesses err by presuming that inclusion and diversity are mutually exclusive or that one entails the other by default. And such error can be considered hazardous. In fact, it is critical to recognise D&I as two distinct ideas, as highlighted in Gallup's 2018 research, "3 Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture." "Gallup's study reveals that understanding that diversity and inclusion are quite distinct things is the first step in the journey toward developing a uniquely varied and inclusive culture," the report's conclusion reads.


Diversity Definition

Diversity and inclusion may sound somewhat similar, but in reality, they refer to quite different ideas. Diversity is described in the 2018 Gallup survey as "the complete spectrum of human differences." Age, gender, ethnicity, and disability are examples of visible diversity dimensions, while socioeconomic status, marital status, and sexual orientation are examples of invisible diversity dimensions. Diversity is "the disparities you can see or identify in people," according to Lori George Billingsley, the Coca-Cola Company's chief diversity officer. In essence, workplace diversity is creating a workplace that is representative of a variety of people and backgrounds. We want our workplace to represent the communities we serve, says Joni Davis, vice president and Duke Energy's chief diversity officer.


Diverse versus inclusive

According to the Gallup survey from 2018, "Inclusion refers to a sense of belonging to one's culture and environment. The level of respect, acceptance, and encouragement for employees to fully participate in the business can be measured. Contrary to popular belief, variety doesn't always guarantee inclusion. In fact, this distinction is emphasised in the essay "Diversity Doesn't Stick Without Inclusion" from the Harvard Business Review. The article claims, "Part of the difficulty is that 'diversity' and 'inclusion' are so frequently grouped together that they're considered to be the same thing. But it simply isn't the case. The promotion of more individuals of colour or the addition of more women to the board, for instance, may increase diversity, but these actions do not necessarily alter the organization's culture or guarantee that these underrepresented groups will feel completely respected and included. According to Davis' comparison, "Inclusion focuses on who is actually in the game, while diversity refers to who is on the squad."


CEO of the Society of Human Resource Management Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. makes an intriguing insight about how D&I efforts are faring in numerous businesses. "In all honesty, diversification levels in most businesses have increased. These days, the majority of businesses are concentrating on inclusion. To highlight their emphasis on inclusiveness, several organisations are actually switching the D&I name to I&D. His remarks highlight the true distinction between the two and the inherent error of thinking that one entails the other without any further thought. The distinctions may not even be subtle, according to others, and failing to recognise them can be a serious mistake with serious financial repercussions.

Risks Associated with Diversity Achieving Without Inclusion

In fact, when a few women or people of colour are added to a board or executive team, many businesses feel as though the necessary check has been made and operations may resume as usual. Because there are legitimate hazards involved with emphasising diversity over inclusion and completely neglecting it, it may be argued that this approach is naive, stupid, and extremely hazardous. As stated in the aforementioned Harvard Business Review article, "Diversity means representation in the workplace. But without inclusion, it won't be possible to create the vital linkages that draw in a wide pool of people, motivate them to participate, support innovation, and promote economic expansion.

Examining some of the very real risks that businesses run when they attain diversity but not inclusion

Psychological safety being impeded

Psychological safety was shown to be the most important component for team success in a study that Google did to better understand what makes their teams successful. According to their paper, "The five keys to a successful Google team," the people on the team are less important than the way they work together, organise their projects, and value each other's contributions. Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed? is a question used in the study to explain psychological safety. Teams with high levels of psychological safety are often thought to be ones in which members are free to speak up, ask questions, and offer suggestions without worrying about facing retaliation or risking their reputations or personal connections. For the purpose of fostering a climate of psychological safety, inclusion appears to be a crucial, if not essential, component. Can team members truly feel included and part of the team without first experiencing a sense of authentic belonging? It appears that the latter is a prerequisite for the former.

Falsely instilling a sense of security

They frequently aren't aware that others may feel uncomfortable or excluded because "non minorities" typically benefit from a default sense of inclusion. Because of this, it's simple for leadership to get complacent and believe the company has made significant progress when, in fact, they may have only made a little step when the organization's makeup changes to include greater diversity.

Opportunities lost for improved business success

It is widely accepted that corporations embrace diversity and inclusion not only for moral reasons but also to achieve greater financial success. Without the realisation of systemic inclusiveness, it may be argued that the possibility for improved innovation and commercial outcomes is severely limited. The benefit to business performance will be minimal at best if there is diversity inside the organisation but those individuals don't feel empowered to speak up, they aren't actively involved in decision-making, or they don't truly feel like part of the team.

Risking Being Seen as Too Insignificant

The unsettling fact is that inclusion without diversity may be seen as "tokenism," which can have a negative boomerang effect on even the most well-intentioned organisations. People from underrepresented communities who are promoted to senior leadership roles (or other sectors that previously lacked diversity) may feel like tokens once they realise that while they may be "on the team," they aren't actually "in the game." What does that mean in actuality? They might be in a leadership position but understand that they might not have the same power as their counterparts in the majority. Despite feeling physically involved, they nonetheless perceive themselves as outsiders. They may come to see that, despite the fact that leaders from underrepresented groups exist, the company culture has not changed to embrace and truly value those populations.

Organizations may welcome members of underrepresented groups to serve on a board or leadership team, but when those new invitees learn they are merely token representation, they frequently resign quickly, often with greater anger and resentment than before. The company is therefore worse off because they now have a smaller pool of underrepresented minorities to contact in order to improve their diversity profile and a bigger hill to climb in order to completely incorporate these underrepresented groups into the organisational culture.

In essence, diversity in these situations may be viewed as an effort at a band aid or quick cure for structural issues that haven't been properly addressed. Inclusion, according to Lori George Billingsley, "is so much tougher to create and quantify because it's more about an attitude." In fact, some businesses make the error of settling for merely ticking the diversity box instead of making the enormous investment necessary to achieve true inclusion. They act at their own cost because this opportunistic strategy can exacerbate organisational conflict, anger, and disappointment.

While inclusion is a marathon, diversity is a sprint. Each takes a different level of preparation, conditioning, and dedication.