Don’t Conflate Diversity and Inclusion

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Though the terms are interconnected, it’s dangerous to act as if diversity and inclusion are the same thing, or that having one means you automatically have the other.

a group of employees representing diversity and inclusion

After years of hard work, you and your recruiting team have finally done it. Once overwhelmingly homogeneous, your company now employs people from all walks of life. Workers of different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds walk through your offices every day.

That means you can check the box on that diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative, right?

If you want your diversity and inclusion initiative to ultimately fail, go for it.

Because the two terms are so closely interlinked, businesses often lump “diversity” and “inclusion” together and assume hiring is inclusion. They’re eager to check the box and be done. These businesses then wonder why all those diverse workers they took the time, money, and effort to recruit leave the company soon after because of a lack of opportunities or a say in decisions.

Bottom line: Diversity is only one half of the equation. For diversity recruiting efforts to succeed, you have to devote equal attention to inclusion. And that effort starts with a better understanding of the basics.

Here, we’ll define the difference between diversity and inclusion, explain what happens when you have one without the other, and offer tips on how to improve both.

Diversity is inviting differences

A graphic representing a diverse workforce

What is diversity?

Simply put, diversity means welcoming differences. Businesses that practice diversity employ a workforce with a wide range of differing values, cultures, backgrounds, and skills.

Though companies predominantly measure workforce diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, or gender, the truth is diversity covers a much wider range of employee characteristics, including things like:

  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious or political beliefs
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Education
  • Disability
  • Geographic location

Diversity is solely an issue of talent acquisition—ensuring hiring processes and methods for job candidate evaluation don’t discriminate against any one particular group when they apply for a position at your company.

Who’s responsible for diversity?

Though everyone from the CEO to head of HR will have a role, recruiters and hiring managers are ultimately the ones that are most responsible for diversity. They are the employees on the front lines of bringing people into the business who should ensure that hiring processes are fair, and that biased hiring decisions are as mitigated as possible.

What happens in businesses that lack diversity?

Businesses that lack diversity doom themselves to a Sisyphean fate of mediocrity. Without the ability to draw from a wide variety of perspectives and ideas, the same tactics are utilized, the same solutions are proposed for problems, and the same products roll off the assembly line.

This has real financial implications: Companies that employ diverse workforces and support pro-diversity policies are proven to be more innovative and profitable than their non-diverse counterparts.

How do I improve diversity in my organization?

  • Find new sources for job candidates. If your candidate pool draws from the same candidate sources—the same job boards, the same social media groups, the same competitors—how do you expect to ultimately make a diverse hire? Expand your reach by posting vacancies on niche job boards or reaching out to promising passive candidates that aren’t actively looking for a new job, but would consider a change.
  • Mitigate biases in your hiring processes. Removing subjectivity in how you evaluate and hire job candidates allows for more fair comparisons between them. That means standardizing both the questions asked in interviews for a given role (instead of winging it), and the criteria by which candidates are evaluated. You should also mitigate the biases of any one person by making every hiring decision a majority or consensus decision among a group of people.
  • Leverage technology for more data-driven hiring decisions. Big data recruiting systems are getting better and better at objectively evaluating job candidates and predicting their likelihood of success. By giving assessments to your current top performers, giving those same assessments to job applicants, then comparing the results, you’re much more likely to make an unbiased hiring decision (if you do it right).

Inclusion is offering equality

A graphic representing an inclusive workforce.

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is a fair chance. Businesses that practice inclusion promote an environment in which every employee is treated fairly and has an equal opportunity to advance and contribute to the success of the organization.

Inclusion is an issue of talent management. Now that you have a diverse array of employees walking through your front door, what steps do you need to take to ensure they have an equal opportunity to impact your business?

Who’s responsible for inclusion?

At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, the answer is everyone. Workers at every level of the organization play a role in advocating diversity in your company’s culture and decision-making and in making sure every achievement that reflects your mission and values is recognized and rewarded.

What happens in businesses that lack inclusion?

On the surface, diverse businesses that lack inclusion can appear to be humming along soundly. Over time, however, resentment begins to set in as minority groups are repeatedly stonewalled in their attempts to contribute or advance. Employee engagement takes a nosedive, before workers begin to leave for more inclusive opportunities elsewhere.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the possibility of a PR backlash, too. Just ask Uber or Amazon what happens when you fail to have inclusive leadership.

How do I improve inclusion in my organization?

  • Reevaluate your rewards and recognition systems. Are you really rewarding your top performers, or do you just think you are? Look at historical performance data to determine if your organization is promoting the ones that have earned it, then talk to managers to diagnose reasons why if that isn’t happening. You should also leverage technology that allows workers to recognize each other, increasing the likelihood that every employee’s accomplishments are seen by leadership.
  • Adopt inclusive policies. For parents, it could be improving your parental leave policy. For ethnic minorities, it could be company-wide recognition of holidays that they celebrate. For those with disabilities, it could be greater accessibility options in your office. There are a thousand things you can do to be more inclusive, but it means nothing if you only talk about them.
  • Support the formation of employee resource groups (ERGs). Inclusion dies in silence, which is why you should encourage employees to form ERGs that support those who have a muted or nonexistent voice in the company. The goal of these groups is three-fold: 1) Education on the common obstacles against this group, 2) Training on how to be more inclusive of this group, and 3) Consolidation and support for ideas that drive equality.

Diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion

From the prevalence of the acronym “D&I” to the growth of executive roles such as the chief diversity and inclusion officer, it can be easy to assume that diversity and inclusion are one and the same: the same goal, the same responsibilities, and the same playbook for success.

But this is a misconception, and one that can result in drastic consequences if businesses aren’t careful.

Successful diversity recruiting efforts should be applauded, but the work isn’t over. Equal—if not more—effort should be devoted internally to welcome diverse workers into your company’s culture and leadership if you want any of those diversity hires to actually make an impact.

For more help, check out 3 Ways HR Tech Can Improve Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace.

Looking for Human Resource software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Human Resource software solutions.

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About the Author

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Brian Westfall

Brian Westfall is a Senior HR and Talent Management Analyst for Capterra. His research has been cited in various publications, including TIME, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Undercover Recruiter.

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