In today’s workplace, the terms diversity and inclusion are being used with increasing frequency, and with good reason.
It is a noble effort and goal to create a workforce that is truly representative of the population of the community, and that more people are talking about it — in some cases doing something about it — is encouraging progress.
However, we must be cautious to recognize that diversity and inclusion, while maybe interconnected, are not interchangeable. They are two distinct concepts,and we should be acutely aware of their differences.
A diverse workplace, on the surface, looks very progressive. Employees may come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, be neurodivergent or LGBTQI+, and the team photos on the webpage give the image of a welcoming environment. But just because a company has modernized its hiring practices to ensure it has a diverse workforce, it doesn’t automatically mean that workplace is inclusive.
That team picture boasting diversity does not say whether those team members feel comfortable being their true selves at work, or if their thoughts and opinions count the same as other people or if they are socially accepted by their colleagues.
Likewise, an organization may lack diversity, but feel inclusive to those within it because the employees share a similar background — and that is more worrisome. When an organization is inclusive to only a select group of individuals — they may look alike, have studied at similar schools, or come from a certain geographical area — it is often unwelcoming (whether explicitly or unintentionally) to a huge swath of society that looks, thinks and lives differently.
Organizations like this not only don’t represent the communities in which they operate, they also greatly limit their potential for creativity, innovation and ultimately performance, which diverse teams are shown to bring in spades.
So how do you untangle diversity and inclusion and ensure you’re getting both parts right? To start, employers need to step back and assess their recruitment and human resources processes in their entirety to identify where biases (including unconscious ones) may be creeping in, and where opportunities to increase support exist.
The lack of diversity often stems from the hiring process. While many organizations believe they are diverse, by the very nature of how they hire, they often fall short. Traditional recruitment methods that rely on resumes, interviews and reference checks often result in certain candidates being favoured over others, regardless of their merit, as social biases tend to creep in and play a role in decision-making.
To avoid this, organizations should consider incorporating blind hiring and aptitude testing into the hiring process. Blind hiring ensures candidates can’t be evaluated based on details such as age, gender or where they’ve worked previously.
Aptitude testing reveals a candidate’s true potential, and overcomes biases that may arise during the interview process. A person could have the skill set to be perfectly suited to the job, but bomb the interview because they are shy, English might be their second language or they could have difficulty with hearing. However none of these factors would affect their ability to perform the job at a very high level.
While overhauling hiring processes to be more equitable is an effective way to encourage greater diversity in a workforce, if individuals don’t feel supported in their role or if they feel like they’ve been hired to meet a diversity target, they are unlikely to reach their full potential or stay with the organization long-term. This is where inclusion comes in.
Fostering inclusion in the workplace can (and should) be done in a number of ways. Beyond the bare minimum of having a zero-tolerance rule for discriminatory behaviour and language, policies should include things like promoting the use of inclusive language, the practice of allyship, support of social causes, cultural awareness training, employee resource groups and the amplification of marginalized voices, among other things.
It’s been proven time and again that organizations that prioritize both diversity and inclusion are more likely to be leaders in their industries and have greater employee loyalty.
These organizations do not treat diversity and inclusion as a catch-all term, but instead understand them as independent, yet interconnected, concepts that require individualized nurturing.
Opinion | Why diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t interchangeable