20 D&I Lessons from the Trenches – Lesson 3: Decoupling Inclusion from Diversity


As you might know, emberin have been working in the trenches with large organisations around the world for over 12 years now, so we have some street cred to make some observations about what works and what doesn’t. 

We have decided to put together our lessons from the trenches in the hope that some of this information may assist organisations who are trying to make an impact – and to help accelerate their journeys.

We have compiled a list of 20 lessons – and today we are sharing some information from Lesson No. 3. 

Click HERE to register your interest for the coming 20 D&I Lessons from the Trenches webinar sessions.

Lesson 3: Measurement, focus and general understanding of the subject is centred on the ‘diversity’ component. People struggle to decouple the ‘inclusion’ component.

Do you really understand the difference between the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’? While many organisations are making efforts to promote diversity strategies, they often come up short. Research clearly shows, that while senior leaders talk eloquently about their organisation’s commitment to diversity – some employees think this is inauthentic – they feel that leaders are talking the talk but not walking the walk.

To some extent, these complaints are valid, since organisations have historically counted women and other groups – for example; culturally diverse groups, disabled people, people of different sexual orientation – the list goes on. They have counted these people at all levels of the organisation as a primary approach to diversity – and patted themselves on the back when their number per group increases by a percentage point. The message being: we are succeeding at diversity. We are committed to diversity. We are good at diversity.

But is that really true?

Inclusion is where the business benefits become visible. Have we neglected the ‘INCLUSION’ part of this equation? You see – inclusion has a way more interesting business case than diversity alone. Inclusion also shows you HOW to get to diversity with a genuine desire to make your team move from good to great. Inclusion calls us to action. It is not limited to representation metrics as the primary driver. That focus leads organisations into a talent acquisition frenzy. Not that there’s anything wrong with recruiting, but I’ve seen organisations spend literally tens of thousands of dollars to participate in these type of recruitment strategies, just to, essentially tick a box. Their intent is noble, but their thinking is limited. A company may hire the greatest talent, but if there isn’t a culture of inclusion, that talent will move on.

There are a couple of other issues with an approach which only focuses on the numbers:

  • If we bring in people who are different into an organisation – but they still can’t be themselves and express their diverse views – then we lose any benefit from a business case perspective.
  • When it’s all about metrics – it drives the wrong behaviour.
  • This approach is not inclusive!

At emberin, we often see confusion in the language of inclusion associated with diversity, and we see the term “inclusion” used interchangeably with “diversity”. Let us emphasise what we hope by now is obvious: – these terms are not interchangeable!

Let’s look at the definition of inclusion and diversity:

  1. Diversity is a noun and describes the differences between people. Diversity is essentially all the ways in which we differ from one another. Primary dimensions of diversity include age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and physical abilities and qualities. These dimensions of diversity are generally obvious and essentially unchangeable, and they have a powerful effect on an individual’s opportunities.
  2. Diversity also includes dimensions such as socio-economics, thinking style, personality, educational level, values, religious beliefs, work style, and occupation.
  3. Inclusion is a call to action! It’s about including everyone’s voice and talents. Inclusion means being open to a variety of ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles from everyone, ensuring that everyone is allowed to bring their best to the workplace to maximise business success.
  4. While maintaining diversity is certainly an important element in creating an inclusive workplace, diversity alone is not enough.

Inclusion creates better business outcomes. Inclusion changes everything – Inclusion is at the backbone of exceptional organisational cultures. IT ENABLES DIVERSITY … and it also enables increased employee engagement, innovation, collaboration, agility, greater safety, employee wellbeing and increases customer engagement. The holy grail of high performing organisations, is integrating all facets of organisational life so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Much talk is generated about the value that the behaviours of inclusion, engagement and collaboration bring to organisations, but we only need to dig a bit deeper to see what the evidence is, for how these behaviours are practiced by those who do the talking.

Typically the main measure of diversity and inclusion success has been to measure the increase in the number of women in senior roles. Whilst we do think this is still important – it’s important to recognize that this is a lag indicator – whereas measuring inclusion is a lead indicator.

Diversity = Counting Women?

Counting numbers of employees from under-represented groups as the key component of a ‘diversity’ strategy will never be sustainable or successful. It is like trying to fix retention by measuring turnover of employees. Engagement of employees is a much greater ‘lead’ indicator to retention. Inclusivity is to diversity what engagement is to retention. Inclusion is the lead indicator that predicts greater diversity.

Inclusion is the lead indicator that predicts greater diversity.

Hiring a diverse workforce and then including the perspectives of all members of that diverse workforce is a natural and proven way to yield innovative ideas. While maintaining diversity is certainly an important element in creating an inclusive workplace, diversity alone is not enough. Inclusion goes beyond simply having a diverse pool of employees. It’s about engaging those employees so they become active contributors to the organisation, coming up with great ideas and participating in decision-making. If you put a group of people with similar backgrounds in a room together and ask them to solve a problem, they’re likely to come up with very similar ideas and even more likely to agree with each other. This is because “groupthink” doesn’t generally lead to innovative ideas. But get a group of people from different backgrounds together and they’re likely to look at problems and opportunities in very different ways, magnifying the creativity of the entire group. That can be a great thing! Inclusion is about taking action to get everybody’s voice heard because that’s what will drive business performance. Everybody means everybody. Yes it means women, culturally diverse people and indigenous folk – but it also means men and caucasians.

Behaviours that support inclusion involve taking the time to listen – it is not just telling people what to do. When changes occur, behaviours that support inclusion involve giving people the rationale for why certain decisions have been made and, better yet, inviting their input as part of the decisionmaking process. This also means allowing decision-making down to the most junior levels of your organisation.

These behaviours encourage involvement in every tier within the organisation and from every individual in the organisation. Every individual, every single individual – that’s inclusion!

Developing the Inclusion Index:

Even though organisations may have the requisite diversity in their midst, the employees may not feel that all the strands of their social identities may be appreciated and included – hence, leaving them feeling excluded. Unfortunately, there are not many available tools for organisations to gauge such desired levels of inclusion.

Most measures of diversity tend to be raw numbers, quotas, or proportions of the workforce demonstrating such areas of difference looking at diversity as an input target. Some organisations monitor issues such as turnover amongst diverse groups, complaints made on the grounds of fairness and equality, recruitment costs and exit interview analysis to gain some measure of output from their diversity policies and practices. These largely address the failures of the diversity practice rather than areas of success, and can be widely impacted by external factors, such as the state of the labour market generally.

An inclusion index provides a ‘lead’ indicator as opposed to remedial ‘lag’ indicators.

We have been supporting organisations to create an inclusion index based on existing engagement surveys. We look for the questions which are indicators of inclusion, such as ‘my manager listens to my perspective’. A word of caution – many companies think that they are measuring inclusion by asking diversity specific questions in their engagement surveys, such as:

  • I feel that I have equal opportunity in this organization regardless of gender.
  • I do not feel discrimination in this organization

In our experience, such overt questions are typically answered positively: we are great and we don’t have any discrimination. This is the response you will see if someone has never personally been involved in overt discrimination – which is most people. When people read these questions – they think of the extremes and overt cases. The problem with a positive response is that it masks the non-overt exclusion which occurs in multiple subtle ways in the organisation, ever more prevalent!

We hope some of this information presented can challenge your thinking!

We would love to see you join us at our upcoming webinar sessions to learn more about our 20 D&I Lessons from the Trenches.

Click HERE to register your interest now.

From our perspective, we choose to take a much broader and more positive approach in the D&I space, focusing on individuals actions and shifting habits – which is harder but it does pay dividends in the ROI conversation. This broader focus enables us to shift leader and organisational thinking from the traditional ‘frenetic’ diversity activity mindset –  to a broader focus on inclusion. This focus, from our perspective, enables organisations to connect with and impact multiple different people focuses across the organisation with one core approach – inclusion – the overarching and enabling factor to not just diversity, but all other big ticket items for your organisations people strategy including engagement, collaboration, innovation, psychological safety etc. etc.

If you would like to connect and discuss this information and what taking a broader, bigger picture view could look like in the D&I space we would love to hear from you. We are obsessed with getting results and are constantly striving to increase our ROI in everything we do!

  1. Submit a contact form here!
  2. Visit the website here!
  3. Give us a call on: 1800 306 698

Cheers, Maureen!


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