Written by
Wanda Wallace

Published
16 Dec 2015

Diversity versus inclusion can you spot the difference?

16 Dec 2015 • by Wanda Wallace

The benefit of having a group of co-workers with diverse perspectives, experiences and mindset is only realised when inclusivity becomes part of the culture – that is, only when we stop counting the number of diverse talent and start creating an inclusive workplace. 

In an inclusive culture, individuals with different perspectives feel they belong, they can fit it in without having to change dramatically, can represent their diverse experiences within the group, are accepted, feel their voice is heard, are evaluated in non-biased ways and are given equal opportunity to show contribute. 

How can you create an inclusive culture?

Diversity without creating an inclusive culture leads to awkward situations that mean the company gets little or even no benefit from diversity. How you can tell the difference between diverse and inclusive work environments?

A recent example of diversity without an inclusive culture comes from a young female client in financial services. Her older male boss routinely walks jubilantly into the room and goes down the row punching the shoulders of his young male employees and chatting briefly with each. When he gets to her, he passes her by. He doesn’t want to punch her, but not doing so signals to her co-workers that she isn’t important, she can be ignored, and she isn’t valued because he doesn’t stop to talk with her. She then feels singled out, overlooked, slightly inadequate and as if she’s not the same as everyone else. Not that she wants to be punched of course, but she wants to be seen as part of the team. If this continues, when it’s time for the team to meet to discuss strategic plans or next steps, she will be less engaged because her opinion and her voice hasn’t been valued. In this case, everyone means well, but they haven’t stopped to think about the consequences of excluding someone in something as simple as a brief chat.

And similarly at another client, a female manager was promoted and her boss organized a dinner to celebrate the promotion. Unfortunately he booked the dinner at a private club where women are only allowed in when escorted by males. She was exceedingly embarrassed. Good intents left a negative impact on her and on some of her male colleagues as well.  

Questions to ask managers

To develop an inclusive culture, start with an audit of the practices and procedures within the company and to ask employees themselves. 

There are four questions to ask managers:

  1. With which employees do you choose to spend your informal time? This includes stopping to talk to when you run into them in the hallway or the cafeteria, stopping by their desks and getting to know in unscheduled informal interactions. 
  2. Who are you sponsoring? Who are you putting your reputation behind? How similar are they to you? 
  3. For the diverse members of your team, how well do you know them as people – their interests, concerns, beliefs, ambitions? Have you actually talked to them about it?
  4. Who do you give the most candid feedback to? Who do you avoid giving candid feedback to? Are you giving everyone on the team equal opportunities to improve? Typically, managers give the tough messages to the people you like the most, the ones they understand the most. It’s rare to give effective feedback to people you don’t feel comfortable with.

Questions to ask HR

  1. When you conduct a talent assessment or hold a succession planning meeting, how informed are you and the managers involved about the individuals being discussed? Do more than two or three people know the individuals involved? How can you facilitate genuine awareness of the individual’s successes, goals and challenges?  
  2. How well do you know the diverse talent? How comfortable are you with their individual styles, preferences and personalities? 
  3. How effectively do you challenge management when the same group of people get the best opportunities or are given the benefit of the doubt?  

Questions to ask diverse talent

  1. How much do you feel included, a part of the group? How much do you think you voice and perspective is heard? 
  2. How informed are you about what it takes to advance to the next level or two? Do you have adequate opportunities to show your capability? 
  3. Who is mentoring you?

Once you have the results of this audit, then you can design programmes, interventions and measures that foster greater inclusivity in the culture.