The Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion, and Why It Matters

Now more than ever, employers are realizing the value and necessity of having a workforce that is both diverse and inclusive. While it may be tempting to use these terms interchangeably, they actually describe two different things. This post will discuss what each term really means, and present a five-step strategy to develop a supportive workplace culture that meets both needs. 

Diversity

Diversity is the starting point for a workplace that is truly supportive. For a workplace to be inclusive, the workforce must be diverse. Diversity can be more or less defined as the various traits, qualities and characteristics that make a person unique, as part of their whole being. There are many potential contributors to diversity, including age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnic background, nationality, socioeconomic status, personal interests and more. 

It is often said that there are four types of diversity, discussed below.

The first is internal diversity. Factors contributing to internal diversity are those that a person cannot change; for example, their age, race, sex assigned at birth, and mental and physical capabilities. The forms of internal diversity are what have historically been targeted in anti-discrimination policies, which have thankfully come into place to bar employers from turning down employment to qualified candidates based on something over which they have no control. 

The second type is external diversity. External diversity is composed of things that a person is not born with, but that may receive influence from the individual’s surroundings. Appearance, hobbies, socioeconomic status and relationship status are examples of external diversity. 

The third type of diversity is organizational diversity. This is achieved by having a workplace that includes people of different job functions, management level and seniority, pay grade, department, work hours and more. 

The fourth and final type of diversity is often referred to as “worldview,” and is loosely defined as the way in which an individual sees the world. This is the most challenging type of diversity to pin down, since it’s shaped by a person’s life experience and interaction with society. Morality and political affiliation are two examples of areas that might reflect a person’s worldview. 

Inclusion

The four types of diversity discussed above are good points of stratification when building an employee workforce that serves as the foundation of an inclusive and supportive work environment. However, diversity alone does not necessarily translate to inclusion. Inclusion is a separate entity and has been described as “diversity in action.” An inclusive space is one where a diverse group of people can work together in a safe and respectful manner, appreciating their individual differences and finding a way to make sure voices of all types are heard. 

In a truly inclusive workplace, employees should never feel as though they need to hide who they are to be valued for their contributions. A groundbreaking survey by Deloitte once found that a surprising number of employees in today’s global workforce report feeling the need to “cover” one or more aspects of their diversity, which can prove detrimental to their success, as well as the success of their employer. It’s important for people to feel as though they belong, because that serves as a basis for teamwork. 

The Five-Step Strategy

A quick Google search will reveal that there are no shortage of guides available for employers that wish to develop an effective plan for diversity and inclusion. Some are longer than others, or might be specific to a particular type of employment. After reviewing many such guides, there were five points that seemed especially salient as part of a strategy for creating a diversity and inclusion plan.

  1. Accountability and commitment: While inclusion can occur at the employee level, diversity must ultimately be supported by organizational leadership, or whomever manages hiring. Accountability should be transparent, and if possible, involve objective metrics and benchmarks for success. Internal and external company messaging should reflect accountability and commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  2. Encourage connection: Having a diverse workforce doesn’t mean much if employees lack welcoming spaces to meet and celebrate what makes them unique. Events and tasks that encourage interaction can help in this regard, whether it’s hosting regular mixer events, celebrating a diverse range of civic and religious holidays, or even shifting employees between different teams every so often so they have a chance to collaborate with others. 
  3. Build a diverse talent pipeline: Building a diverse talent pipeline is something that should ideally be done proactively. Recruiting practices should encourage consideration of those with diverse backgrounds. When “selling” a workplace to potential job candidates, it helps if there is already an existing culture of diversity and inclusion; otherwise, they may be hesitant to come on board. 
  4. Leverage diversity and inclusion for better outcomes: There’s no contesting the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Simply put, diversity brings with it a broader sense of perspective, which can help with everything from client relations to marketing and logistics. 
  5. Promote diversity amongst clients and stakeholders: Business is not conducted in a bubble. Looping clients and stakeholders into a company-wide commitment to diversity and inclusion facilitates better relationships all the way around, and can speak volumes about organizational values.

The Overall Benefits

A commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to positive gains across the board. When employees feel as though they are welcome and truly belong, it creates a sense of pride in one’s work and encourages collaboration with others. The synergy of a collaborative office culture fuels efficiency and productivity, and can inspire groundbreaking ideas. Beyond all of which, it just makes the office a more enjoyable place for everyone. 

A culture of diversity and inclusion extends beyond the responsibilities of management and human resources; it truly requires buy-in from all employees in order to take hold. As the saying goes, “respect begets respect,” so the best place to start when creating a strategy for diversity and inclusion in the workplace is to be respectful, and hire thoughtfully. 

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