Over the past decade, Diversity and Inclusion have gained a considerable amount of traction as buzzwords, especially in the corporate sector. Today, we would be hard pressed to find even a single large corporate entity that doesn’t have Diversity and Inclusion missions and goals listed on its website, and on its organizational goals. Diversity and Inclusion are two sides of the same coin. One doesn’t mean much without the other. But, what do these words mean.
What is Diversity?
Diversity is simply the categorization and classification of people, based on their differences. A large part of what we consider “diversity” happens through some natural, but mostly social constructs we all adhere to life. We are all born as either male or female. Most of us identify our gender preferences as male, female, transgender, non-binary, queer, or something else. Our geographical, cultural and ethnic heritages determine our “race”. We love who we love. We have our differences in religious and political ideologies. Based on our family history, we have different paths of education, and are at different stages of financial stability and wealth accumulation. Truly speaking, the list of the ways in which we can segment and classify people based on differences is endless. As individual human beings, our thoughts, values, ideals and actions are diverse and unique because of our individual life experiences. It is a quality of every human being!
But, this is the limit of the concept of diversity. There is nothing more to this construct beyond outlining the differences in people. Diversity, by its very nature, is fundamentally divisive. It naturalizes social constructs into concrete, immovable barriers. It perpetuates stereotypes, prejudices, and sometimes, even oppressive and disempowering narratives. This is because, diversity, the way we have been applying, positions people in relation to how different they are from the “baseline” of an educated, White, able-bodied, male. By doing that, it contributes to, and may even exacerbate existing inequities and power imbalances.
Whether in the corporate, educational, or social spheres of life, diversity shows us the different types of people we work with. It allows companies to put “different” bodies at the table. However, it doesn’t do much more than that. At its core, diversity has nothing to do with anything more than just representation in numbers. It is simply a numerical or statistical representation of the differences in a group. It allows us to create slices in pie charts and create more tabs in bar charts. It does nothing more than that because its very function is to create sections based on differences. It is a grand way to showcase inclusivity without actually being inclusive to the people involved.
Of course, diversity is important and necessary. But, it is insufficient and incomplete without adding inclusion to the equation.
What is Inclusion?
Inclusion is an action. It is the way by which opinions, talents, thoughts and skills of all the members of a group are given importance. It is the only action by which the needs of a diverse group or population can be met. It is not just a concept or a social construct; it is a behavior that can become a habit through regular implementation through practice.
Inclusion is the mechanism by which we get to address equity and power imbalances between individuals and groups. While diversity puts bodies at the table, inclusion is what gives all these bodies the power and space to use their voices. It does this by highlighting the importance of getting different needs met equitably. In doing so, it rebalances the otherwise lop-sided power structures that were set up long before diversity and inclusion ever became real things to talk about.
Inclusion emphasizes the goals of supporting the varied needs of a diverse body of people. It promotes a collaborative growth mindset because by its very definition, it makes room for different perspectives and talents. It drives innovation in thought and action. Inclusion creates more power for the group overall by giving power to every individual in the group. Ultimately, inclusion is what leads to equity and equality, across all spheres of life.
Final Thoughts: It is crucial for any organization that wants to increase it’s revenue, it’s relevance, employee performance and productivity, employee retention, and, in the long run, its legacy, to really look past its diversity numbers and focus on implementing actionable, inclusive initiatives across all levels, groups and teams. Failing to do so, will only result in unsustainable goals, and wasted resources. More on this in another post.