Without Inclusion, Diversity Does Not Work

diversity and inclusion

A diverse workforce is critical to the success of a company.  This is what we’ve been seeing of late in the media, in academia, and the issue of diversity in the workplace has become a major point of discussion in society at large.  And there is good reason for this – we know that diverse teams perform better and that the members of those teams are happier at work.

For example, one McKinsey study from 2015 found that organizations in the top quartile for their industry in gender diversity earned 15% above the industry median.  For racial/ethnic diversity, that number was 30%.  There is also ample evidence that diverse teams are more productive, more innovative, more accurate in their predictions, more committed to the company and more satisfied with their jobs. Famously, research by Scott Page and James Surowiecki has found that diversity in teams is often actually more important than average IQ as a predictor of team effectiveness in many tasks like brainstorming, predictions, and problem solving.

However, what many of these studies — and what much of the media and societal conversation — are not discussing is that these benefits are not always the outcome of diverse teams.  It’s not automatic.  And this is because for diversity to thrive, for a team or organization to get the benefits of diversity, they need to be inclusive as well.

Diversity and inclusion are often discussed as a single term, but the fact is that they are very different concepts. Diversity is about the mix of people in a team. It’s about the different identities, backgrounds, and experiences that inform the way people approach problems.  Inclusion is about making sure the mix works. It’s about making everyone feel like they belong, like their voice matters, and like they don’t have to conform to others in order for their opinions or ideas to be valued.  Inclusion is about leveraging the diversity in your team and taking advantage of the different ways people approach problems to ensure better decisions.

Without inclusion, diversity doesn’t work.  However, there are lots of things that an organization can do to create an inclusive workplace.  Some of those things are larger policies, like anonymizing CVs, having a robust parental leave policy, and making work flexibility the default.  However, it’s equally if not more important that leaders exemplify inclusive behaviors and embed inclusion in their day-to-day lives.

This means that everyone in a firm, especially those in a position of power, begin to see inclusion as not just something done on the side or as an add-on to HR responsibilities, but as a way of doing business.  Inclusion should be a consideration in all actions taken by leaders.  For example, when making large decisions that affect the firm leaders should seek out people who have very different experiences than they do — people with different expertise, identity, and education — so that any blindspots the leader might have are covered.  This also ensures that approaches that one person may not have thought about are considered, leading to a better-informed decision in the end.

However, it’s not just in big decisions that inclusion should be considered.  When running meetings, it’s important that those who may be different from the majority feel like they can express a different point of view and dissent with that majority.  As such, leaders might consider having a rotating dedicated devil’s advocate in meetings to encourage a culture of healthy argument and ward off groupthink.  Another behavior to be encouraged is to notice and minimize micro-aggressions.  For example, we know that members of minority groups are more likely to be interrupted or have their ideas attributed to other people.  If leaders especially can take note of when these behaviors occur and call them out, others will begin to mimic that behavior and microaggressions are likely to happen less often.

These are just a few examples of regular actions that leaders can take day-to-day to ensure their organization is as inclusive as possible.  It’s not always easy, because considering diversity and inclusion is not always a natural tendency especially when we’re tired, stressed, or under time pressure. It’s often not that we don’t want to be inclusive, but just that we forget in the face of other priorities. But if we can just remind ourselves to slow down and think, “What about diversity and inclusion?” Just that thought can help us to remember to do these small, but extremely important and impactful actions that help everyone feel like they belong.

Read more: Majority Of Directors Say CEO Compensation Should Include Diversity And Inclusion Metrics