The Problem with Diversity and Inclusion

Published October 18, 2016

I’ve had a few discussions recently, both with clients and fellow psychologists, where the topic of inclusion has been raised.  It seems now, as much as ever, organisations are recognising the importance of having a diverse workforce.  It reflects well on brand image and social responsibility to show you are an equal opportunities employer, which in turn enables greater attraction of top talent.

Beyond this, the main benefit of a diverse workforce is enhanced diversity in thought, leading to greater innovation and quality performance.  Apple’s mantra “Think Different”, for example, embodies their quest to create inspiring, cutting-edge technology that puts them above the competition.  You won’t achieve greatness with a bunch of like-minded yes-people who continue selling traditional products in an old-fashioned way if times require change.

So diversity is the key to greatness, right?  Wrong.

While at this year’s CIPD Learning and Development Conference, one of the most thought-provoking notions I heard was that “diversity is the reality, inclusion is a choice.”  Many organisations treat them as the same thing when they say “diversity and inclusion are high on our agenda.”  They are of course connected, but in many cases, they’re referring only to the numbers of women in senior management or hiring more people from ethnic minorities.  While this makes your workforce more diverse, it doesn’t guarantee that their perspectives will be heard or utilised properly.  The benefits of diversity are essentially wasted without inclusion.

So what should organisations do to be more inclusive?

Firstly, let’s think about assessment.  Our best practice advice in recruitment methodology is to have multiple assessors observing each candidate to ensure unconscious bias isn’t influencing overall judgments.  By going a step further and having diverse panels of decision makers, you’re more likely to ensure fair and effective talent acquisitions.  This also links to my original point in this article.  As assessors are the face of your organisation to external candidates, how will anyone know you value diversity if it isn’t visible?

Inclusion is also extremely important for L&D professionals.  Many organisations I know are pushing gender diversity as a high priority, especially in typically male-dominated functions such as IT and Software Development.  ‘Women in Leadership’ modules, especially if centred around the concepts of authentic leadership and values, are increasingly utilised to engage women so they can flourish in senior leadership positions.  Similarly, line managers need to be trained to recognise opportunities to include and delegate to direct reports in creative thought-generation and decision making, as well as provide developmental opportunities.

As initiatives in assessment, development and people strategy can be implemented to make the most of diverse perspectives, it’s certainly a talent management issue we’re talking about.  One of the main things to take away from this is that diversity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility, not just HR.  Getting people in the workplace to understand this is the first step towards creating a truly more diverse and inclusive culture.

Author: Jordon Jones

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