Diversity & Inclusion: A Common Language

If your organisation is not “fluent” in D&I, the first step is to get on the same page with terminology.

Many of us make assumptions but what is meant by the terms "Diversity" and "Inclusion" - our interpretations aren’t always consistent. Many people even use the terms diversity and inclusion interchangeably.  It is essential to  develop a common understanding of what we want to address and how.  If we aren’t talking about the same concepts in the same way, we aren’t solving the same problem. 

Let’s start with an analogy to illustrate some key concepts: 

  1. Diversity is being a part of the tennis club
  2. Inclusion is being invited for a tennis match
  3. Equity is all groups fairly represented in the club management

While no comparison is complete, this one has some important implications we can describe further.

Diversity ...

is about measuring who is in your company and where - across a range of dimensions. Diversity metrics are most often used in recruiting to evaluate whether our hiring reflects talent pool availability and where there may be hurdles in the process. Recruiting diverse talent is a very important first step. However, a D&I strategy simply focused on increased hiring from underrepresented groups is incomplete. Without attention to the experiences of employees once they join your company,  they may end up leaving the company for opportunities elsewhere, only for you to start the process all over again. 

While it can be difficult to collect diversity data on your employees, it is invaluable for assessing what is happening once employees join your organisation to compare how different groups are progressing through the talent pipeline of your organisation. This insight gives targeted focus to your D&I strategy with the ability to monitor progress.  Collecting sensitive personal information such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion needs to be done carefully, establishing trust in how the data will be stored and used. Once trust is established your employees may increase their willingness to confidentially self-identify across many dimensions, both visible and invisible. You then have the data to identify and address gaps and ensure fairness in career outcomes. 

Inclusion ...

is what turns diversity into a competitive advantage. Inclusion data takes a look at the experiences of employees in your company – both day-to-day interactions as well as career experiences. Inclusion ensures that employees feel valued and respected at work, without having pressure to conform, which in turn allows them to make positive contributions that lead to better individual and team performance. Sometimes, even if talent from underrepresented groups feels valued by their team, they may never get to a position of influence and be able to fully contribute to important decisions. An inclusive workplace also ensures that policies and practices provide a level playing field where every employee has the opportunity to develop their full potential. 


The goal of equity is to ensure fairness within your talent management systems and talent decisions. Despite our best intentions to be objective and fair, we are largely unable to identify unconscious bias in our individual interactions and decisions. The right data can reveal patterns in the workplace that may otherwise be invisible. It is important to layer the concept of equity across your Diversity and Inclusion metrics. Equity in representation (diversity) means analysing whether all groups are moving proportionately through the talent pipeline and indicates fairness in career outcomes. Equity in inclusion means that you try to understand any representation gaps by analysing the patterns of career experiences and opportunities. These patterns can reveal where certain groups may be advantaged or disadvantaged by structures and systems. 

By ensuring equitable opportunities for career progression for all employees regardless of background, free from unconscious biases (e.g. in-group bias), you create the foundation for more objective decision making. As a result, you build a stronger competitive edge and maximum business impact.


There is one more term that often gets thrown into the mix and causes confusion. Engagement and Inclusion are commonly used interchangeably. Engagement and inclusion are separate, but related, concepts.

Research shows that engagement is an outcome of inclusion. For this reason an engagement survey, on its own, is not diagnostic. You may find out which groups are more engaged than others, but you may not know why that is and what you can do to improve.  

Inclusion has been definitively linked to other outcomes, in addition to engagement (e.g. team performance, retention, and innovation).  When assessing diversity and inclusion in your organisation, it is important to use your data to connect these concepts to business outcomes that matter. Once you identify your diversity and  inclusion challenges and understand why they vary for specific demographic groups and levels, the solutions you introduce will be targeted and measurable. You can then increase engagement and other business performance metrics.

Developing clarity around these terms - understanding  the differences between them and how they are related - will enable you to identify your challenges and define a road map that addresses the drivers of the business outcomes you desire.

Get real-time access to your data with the Pulsely DEI Dashboard

Visualize your organization's strengths and challenges in the dashboard and monitor your progress as new and updated answers come in.

Diversity & Inclusion Scientific Framework

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