Diversity and inclusion are, more often than not, used as accompanying terms or as part of the DEI concept – but they are distinct concepts and are not interchangeable. An environment can be diverse but not inclusive; and a workplace can be inclusive but not diverse – which can hugely impair the culture.
Diversity is defined by the characteristics, experiences and other distinctions that make one person different from another.
Most people understand diversity on a surface level, ie characteristics that are easy to see. Diversity does mean people of different races, ethnicities, gender identities and sexual orientations – but it’s more than that.
‘Diversity’ represents a broad range of experiences, including socioeconomic background, upbringing, religion, marital status, education, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, disability and life experience.
When companies have a largely homogeneous environment, they tend to only feel comfortable for employees that fit in. People tend to feel more rooted in their prejudices when they are in the cultural majority. That leaves people in the minority little choice but to assimilate with the dominant culture. This kind of pressure increases anxiety, groupthink, and has a detrimental impact on innovation and collaboration.
Inclusion makes a diverse workplace more innovative, profitable, and engaging.
It means creating an environment where people – regardless of surface or hidden level differences – feel welcome and valued. That means no individual is denied access to education, resources, opportunities, or any other treatment based on the qualities that make them unique, whether intentionally or inadvertently.
Building an inclusive environment requires thoughtfulness and intention. It’s more than hiring people that look different. It’s about rewriting implicit bias and challenging the idea that different means inferior.
At some point, your recruiting team will need to turn their attention to hiring and recruiting diverse talent. Look at talent from a variety of backgrounds, and emphasise your organisation's commitment to inclusive hiring. Avoid barriers to entry, like advanced degrees or expensive certifications, in the hiring process. Hire diverse candidates for both leadership and entry-level positions.
Your diversity efforts won’t succeed without the support of your leadership team. For company culture to transform, growth has to be modelled, emphasised, and encouraged. That means having both allies and people from underrepresented backgrounds in the C-suite. Leaders who share their own experiences set the pace for their organisations in more ways than one.
Hiring a diversity and inclusion officer can help accelerate your DEIB strategy. It can help both the organisation and individuals understand what it means to create a welcoming and diverse culture.
Consider reviewing the language your organisation uses – both internally and externally.
Many terms that were commonplace are now being recognised as insensitive in daily usage. Be intentional about using terms that reflect your commitment to inclusion.
This is especially important when it comes to gender, race, and disability. Use “people first” language and never refer to someone by race or disability status. If someone tells you what their pronouns are, use them as appropriate. Generally speaking, it is always acceptable to refer to someone by name or with the indeterminate pronoun “they.”
Learn about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging – both inside and outside of the workplace. Share the benefits of diversity with your team. Offer implicit bias training and talk about stereotypes at work.
Working with a coach can help you confront biases, challenge assumptions and continue conversations about deep diversity. Coaching can also facilitate conversations geared towards changing organisational behaviour.