Moving Beyond Diversity to Inclusion


By Janine Fondon


Where do we go from here? As we explore the future of diversity in this time of transition and change across our country and world, let us acknowledge that priorities might change, but inclusion will always matter to both individuals and organizations.

Inclusion is the asset that is hidden in plain sight. Today, the goal is to learn how to access it as a tool for success.

Over the years, priorities for diversity and inclusion have been different for each company, organization, educational institution, community, and individual — especially considering the geographic location or decade it existed. Yet, through it all, many companies and select groups of people continue to wrestle with equity, advancement, and retention issues. Milestones, over the years, signal the strides and struggles of advancement in diversity and inclusion. For example:

• In the Executive Order 9981 (1948), President Truman officially desegregated the armed forces;

• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for any business, private or public, to practice discriminatory hiring (and firing) practices; and

• Other milestones over the years have included work/life balance, equal pay, reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, veterans’ preferences, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

Today, considering many of the strides and transitions over the years, research now shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. A recent McKinsey study shows that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. The bottom line is that, when companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful.

Diversity can offer many benefits in today’s workplace, but not without working toward inclusion. As Korn Ferry reports, “diversity by itself is not enough: leadership in the 21st century demands that executives and their organizations move beyond diversity alone to capture the potential that comes from inclusion. If diversity is ‘the mix,’ then inclusion is making the mix work by leveraging the wealth of knowledge, insights, and perspectives in an open, trusting, and diverse workplace.” The key to success is how inclusive we are in balancing the mix in an effort to get the best possible advantage.

Here are some thoughts about making the mix work:

• Get beyond the single lens of identity and enter the world of ‘ultradiversity.’

According to Andres Tapia of Korn Ferry, the Los Angeles-based organizational-advisory and executive-search firm, diversity is no longer viewed via a single lens, so inclusion must incorporate some acknowledgement of the complexities of identity. He says, “what the scientists are witnessing at the genetic level is also taking place in society. Demographic changes have been so massive in the past generation — in nearly every country in the world — that, while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete. The stalwart paradigms of group identity based only on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability no longer cover the scope of our multidimensional identities. No one is just black. Or Latino. Or female. Or gay. Or blind. We are much more complex than that. We have entered the age of ultradiversity. This ultradiversity leads to intersected identities such as GayVeteranXer. Or an ElderlyPersonwithaDisability. Or a MillennialIntrovertedFemaleManager. Or BoomerAfricanAmericanGeneralManagerMalewithAdultKids. Or a LesbianSingleMother.”

This new time of ultradiversity calls upon us to accept the total self in a world that wants people to check a box. While we can still check boxes in the age of inclusion, self-expression includes one’s complete identity with more fluidity, while also incorporating a person’s changes over time.

• Explore the diversity of  being ‘human’ in the world of artificial intelligence.

To value inclusion, business leaders focus on the traditional view of diversity (race, sex, gender, education, etc.), yet many people may not understand that what makes us truly diverse is also what makes us human. Our human ability to develop our authentic view of the world will offer many advantages to boost survival in a digital age where computers can triumph on Jeopardy!, do surgery, and assess our faults. While computers can quantify what has been already experienced, the data crunching will never uncover the uncertainties of human thought, potential, and innovation, where ideas and perceptions are based on the human response of emotion, not data.

According to a report by Deloitte, “With intelligence augmentation, the ultimate goal is not building machines that think like humans, but designing machines that help humans think better.” The key to diversity and inclusion is using all of an organization’s human assets to benefit that organization — in ways that extend the boundaries of the boxes we sit in. The true asset is not silencing sectors of our world, but designing a world for all to think about what actions should be taken for greater and more inclusive success.

• Diversity training – evolving our dialogue and actions.

Since 1950, many organizations — from private enterprise to education and government — have incorporated some form of diversity education to avoid lawsuits and prompt success and change in industry and government. In the late 1980s, the Hudson Institute prepared the Workforce 2000 report for the U.S. Department of Labor to project trends. In 2017, we see now that the trends were not only on target, but they remain issues to solve as we move toward the next marker, 2020:

• Trend 1: a skills mismatch or ‘gap’ was predicted to emerge between the abilities of new workers and the increasing skill requirements of new jobs.

• Trend 2: women, minorities, and immigrants were expected to dominate the small net growth of workers, altering traditional workforce demographic patterns.

• Trend 3: if the U.S. continues to prosper as it has since 1900, policy makers must find ways to (1) maintain the dynamism of an aging workforce; (2) reconcile the conflicting needs of women, work, and families; (3) integrate black and Hispanic workers fulIy into the economy; and (4) improve the educational preparation of all workers.

Again, all these proved true, and all remain important issues.

To meet the changing demands of our world, training is still needed, but the expectations are evolving. Dr. Amer Ahmed, director of Intercultural Teaching and Faculty Development at UMass Amherst, reminds organizations that a process of learning (with no end point) must be established, so diversity and inclusion training extends beyond the training session in formal and informal ways. He also suggests that “we must acknowledge the core competencies and skills that allow us to learn.”

These core competencies include self-awareness (understanding your worldview), communication style, empathy (how to validate someone else’s experiences), patience, flexibility, ambiguity, and curiosity.

Ahmed emphasized that we should all strive to be part of a learning organization as well as build our own individual learning plan. “Training alone will not get us to where we (our companies, organizations, or us as individuals) need to be, but it is one of the most important elements of our learning process that helps us progress.”

Toward 2020

As we move toward the magical year 2020, Oxford Economics cites that “people management” is not adequately represented in the C-suite and boardroom. It notes that many companies lack the culture and tools they need to engage employees, track their performance, and measure the effectiveness of HR initiatives. Oxford Economics’ key report on 2020 proposes the following key areas where businesses must take action in order to thrive in the future:

• The Millennial misunderstanding. There is widespread agreement that the generation entering the workforce is different in key ways — but research shows that executives do not really understand what those differences are.

• What matters most at work. Engagement and loyalty are vital to a successful workforce, yet there is a meaningful gap between the incentives and amenities companies offer and those that employees really want.

• The leadership cliff. Research shows that companies are ill-prepared for the leadership challenges of workforce 2020, and are not doing enough to meet future demands.

• Bridging the skills gap. Successful companies will create a learning culture that captures and perpetuates knowledge while empowering employees.

Companies should re-evaluate the success of their diversity and inclusion efforts and move to not only make a difference in the lives of their employees, communities, and business, but also consider some tough decisions and changes to their own corporate culture. Andres Tapia sums it all up when he says, “to have inclusion, we need to call out and manage our differences in a constructive fashion.” Also, he suggests that we do the following:

• Get to know the people you work with. “We cannot make interpersonal and group collaborations work effectively with people that we don’t know or understand. Relationships are built on trust and honest dialogue”;

• Bond with women of color, who may experience slower time to promotion and be less trusting;

• Understand how people with disabilities redefine what it means to be disabled;

• Embrace inclusive leadership and effectiveness; and

• Create new relationships with Millennials (understanding that experience and knowledge no longer correlate with age).

As you explore diversity and inclusion strategies, take the time to think about the limitations of your mindset and focus on how you will find opportunities to learn by engaging others. As Ahmed says, “every person has a story that people need to hear and learn from. The skill to master is being open, transparent, and willing to listen.”

Janine Fondon is president and CEO of UnityFirst.com.

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