Diversity vs Inclusion: Why both are essential

diversity vs inclusion




“Diversity” and “inclusion” go hand in hand. But they are not identical. Lumping the two words together often creates problems and confusion. So for organisations that wish to create a truly diverse workforce, understanding the difference between the two concepts is vitally important.




Diversity is a straightforward and simple concept. It implies variety in individual characteristics like race, sex, or age. Measuring diversity is easy, it’s simply a matter of headcount.




Inclusion is less clear cut. It refers to the strategies and behaviours used to embrace the differences between individuals.  It describes how much each person feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued. As it is largely dependent on subjective experiences, trying to measure inclusion can be tricky.


You can’t have one without the other


As diversity advocate Verna Myers put it:


“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”


Numerous studies have shown that diversity alone doesn’t drive inclusion. So while some companies see benefits from increasing diversity, others don’t. Why is this?


It’s because they focus on diversity and ignore inclusion. When diversity is relegated to a mere box ticking exercise, it loses all of its power. It’s simply doing it for the sake of it. In fact, usually, it gives rise to an entirely new set of problems, namely, quotas and positive discrimination. Nobody wants to feel as if they only got a particular job because of their race or gender.


In an inclusive workplace, all people are encouraged to contribute fully and effectively; they are respected and valued for their ideas and opinions. Inclusion is more than equal representation – such as a certain percentage of women or minorities. Inclusion involves understanding cognitive difference and ensuring everyone is given a seat at the table.


The fact that inclusion is hard to measure is why so many organisations get it wrong. You can’t set a target for inclusion, you can’t publish your inclusion stats in your annual report, and you can’t point to a job role that can fulfil the requirements for inclusion. You can’t name “inclusion” as an objective for any individual, and you can’t necessarily incentivise it in the usual ways. So how can it be achieved?


Inclusion starts from the top and permeates the entire organisation, and it forms the basis for the culture of a business or a company. It’s a mindset in which employers actively provide each member of the workforce with equal access to opportunities. Organisations can begin to transition from diversity efforts to those of inclusion, to create an environment in which all employees can thrive and contribute their best work.


Tips for a more inclusive workspace


Writing in Entrepreneur, Frans Johansson, CEO of The Medici Group, offered five helpful tips on how leaders can begin immediately creating a more inclusive environment.


Bounce an idea of someone unexpected


Companies are structured for narrow execution, so chances are, you tend to interact with the same groups of people on a regular basis. There may be teams or entire departments you don’t see on a regular basis. For example at tech companies, software developers probably feel they have little to learn from interacting with the sales team. But, if you have 10 minutes, give it a go and see what questions or insights that unexpected colleague gives you in response. Once you start looking for people you don’t normally interact with, you can become a connector for others in your day-to-day circle.


Move around the office


If you can do it in your workplace, leave your desk and work in a different area of the office for a few hours. You’d be surprised at how it can really change up your perspective. You may have interactions with people you otherwise wouldn’t, especially if you put yourself where there is a consistent movement of people. This small change of scenery will allow for more collisions and spark new ideas.


Rotate who runs your meetings


Let’s face it, most meetings are either too long or end up rehashing the same topics again and again. In some cases, you may have the same people talking and talking and talking, while others remain silent or disengaged. Change up the dynamic by rotating who runs meetings. Give that individual the leeway to be creative, while ensuring you’re in alignment on the goals of the meeting.


Leave your assumptions at the door


It is easy and often natural to make assumptions about others in the workplace, leading to misunderstandings, biases and often wrong conclusions. The next time you find yourself assuming something of someone — even if it’s as simple as “She’s probably too busy” – stop yourself. And ask the question first of that individual. Even if you confirm your assumption, you now have an informed understanding as a basis for further exploration and clarity.


Talk about something other than work


It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of your job and not take the time to actually get to know people in your office. Disrupt the work paradigm by having a conversation with a colleague you don’t normally talk to and engage them on a non-work related topic. As you consider ways to bring your whole self to the office, it is good to find a connection with others outside of work. This connection will often improve the ease of the working relationship and enhance overall communication.