For over a decade, companies have been talking about the business case for diversity - and over a decade of industry research has evidenced more diverse companies can outperform less diverse companies.
However, as highlighted by Ely and Thomas in Harvard Business Review (HBR), it’s rarely true that diversity alone leads to results. It’s simply not enough to increase the ratio of underrepresented people in your workforce while still operating at status quo: “Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its power structure.”
Diversity is just representation. Inclusion is the real work of ensuring that all groups are equally valued, supported, empowered, able to be authentic and fulfill their potential in the workplace. Diversity may be easy to measure, but tells you nothing about the equity dynamics of your organization.
Gartner research has shown that organizations that measure DEI, foster accountability, and integrate inclusion into talent decisions and processes report up to 20% more organizational inclusion than those who don’t. Since your diversity profile alone is not going to elevate your organization, how do you achieve and measure what really matters - inclusion?
Why Diversity Alone Just Doesn’t Cut It.
“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”
(Vernā Myers, VP, Inclusion Strategy, Netflix)
As is often said, “diversity without inclusion is exclusion.” A simple increase in diversity does not change organizational performance if specific groups in your workforce still experience exclusion - whether excluded in social conversations with co-workers or limited in career opportunities and access to influential networks or feel pressured to inauthentically conform in order to be successful in the workplace.
As Llopis writes in Forbes, “Maybe your diversity numbers have grown over the years, but all critical decisions are still made by the same group of 10 executives who have been in charge for the last decade.”
One of the impacts of diversity without inclusion is a lack of psychological safety (when team members do not feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other) for non-dominant group members. It's also possible that it creates a false sense of organizational change among leaders and missed business advantages. In a corporate culture that lacks inclusion, the dominant group defines the ‘default’. Research has shown that people in racial minorities are less inclined to share personal information with majority colleagues when they feel it highlights their differences. Feeling the need to withhold or minimize your difference (not bring your whole self) not only creates an “emotional tax”, but it also spills into other areas of self-disclosure such as sharing creative ideas. Diversity of thought, viewed as the true end game of demographic diversity, is inhibited without inclusion.
Diversity without inclusion can even be harmful. Team members with diverse backgrounds might fairly suspect they are pawns for tokenism: defined as the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly. As Ely and Thomas share, “increasing diversity can increase tensions and conflict” when it’s not backed by genuine change, similarly to the consequences of performative allyship in the workplace.
Ultimately, adding women or people of color to an organization, a management team or a boardroom may increase the diversity scores of your organization, but gives no guarantee that these same people experience inclusion or feel valued. As Sherbin and Rashid write in HBR, “Diversity speaks to who is on the team, but inclusion focuses on who is really in the game.”
Without equitable opportunities for everyone, a diverse pool of talent fails to create organizational benefits. Diversity is no longer even the starting line, it’s simply one foot in - on its own, it can even create more hurdles than benefits if inclusion isn’t embedded in the cultural mindset from the outset.
Inclusion Is Intentional and Focused On Outcomes.
“If diversity is a sprint, inclusion is a marathon.”
The introduction for Ruchika Tulshyan’s book INCLUSION ON PURPOSE: An intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work, states that the real barrier that organizations face: “If we believe in the morality and the profitability of including people of diverse and underestimated backgrounds, why don't we do it? Because inclusion takes awareness, intention and regular practice. Inclusion doesn't just happen; we have to work at it.”
Inclusion is a far more subjective matter than diversity, because it depends upon how people of traditionally underrepresented groups in your workforce feel about the company culture and their position within it. According to researchers, the sense of inclusion is created by perceptions of fairness, respect, value and belonging. It also depends on whether individuals of all groups believe that their unique value is appreciated and affirmed, their voice is heard, respected and relevant in decision making and development opportunities are available.
It’s essential that individuals do not need to forgo part of who they are, or assimilate to dominant norms, in order to feel they fit into the culture. Research indicates that individuals experience a sense of inclusion only when the needs for both uniqueness and belongingness are met. Without inclusion, individuals can feel that maintaining a positive social identity comes at the cost of downplaying their difference or not being their whole authentic self.
Inclusive cultures provide all individuals with a sense of respect, acceptance, empathy, listening, trust, decision making authority and access to information, which leads to a sense of well-being, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. A culture that engenders these qualities is actively encouraging a fruitful environment for harvesting diversity of thought.
According to Llopis in Forbes, inclusion for an organization is multifaceted and “involves who you let in, how you see them, who you let them be, what you let them do, and how you let them do it.” It involves intentionally helping underrepresented voices to succeed, seeing people as individuals not groups, and allowing people to share themselves, including by contributing in unforeseen and innovative ways to success. When individuals experience inclusion, this drives organizational benefits such as innovation, higher productivity, company attractiveness and positive business outcomes.
Ultimately, it’s no different than anything in life: what your organization puts into inclusion will be the best determinant to what you get out of it.
How Do You Measure Inclusion?
While diversity can be measured in quantitative numbers and percentages, inclusion is both qualitative and subjective. Inclusion must be experienced daily by members of the workforce, so measuring it acquires employee feedback on their qualitative experience. As asserted by Gaudino in Forbes, “inclusion is invisible to those who enjoy it, because inclusion reflects the absence of negative incidents that make one feel excluded.”
Having a single source of truth consisting of company-wide data that is transparent, accessible and can be interrogated by HR empowers a company to be able to recognize the issues, identify trouble spots and make the interventions that will cultivate inclusion.
Gartner identifies seven dimensions of inclusion: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. Gaudino advocates for measuring the incidents of exclusion to get at inclusion. McKinsey emphasizes the importance of assessing both personal experience (authenticity, belonging, meaningful work) and enterprise perception (acceptance, camaraderie, fairness).
At Pulsely, we focus on the triangulation of metrics that drive inclusion and lead to positive business outcomes. We examine Workplace Inclusion through two lenses: we examine Inclusion Experiences (employee’s perception of their interactions and the support they receive) and how that impacts their Performance Indicators (the impact of inclusion on their ability to contribute to the business). Next, we look at Inclusion Competencies (an employee’s reflection on their own beliefs and attitudes and opportunities for growth when it comes to inclusion).
We have found that an inclusive workplace requires both organizational and individual change, as well as understanding the impact of those factors on the whole:
Workplace Inclusion reveals the patterns of two important Inclusion lenses. Inclusion Experiences show how different groups experience your workplace in different ways and sets the groundwork for an intersectional analysis to create both targeted and measurable solutions. Most importantly, these differential experiences are correlated with Performance Indicators to get beyond generalized industry platitudes by measuring how inclusion correlates with engagement, team effectiveness and retention, specifically in your organization.
Inclusion Competencies recognize that inclusion is a net effect of everyday interactions, and evaluates individual manager and employee skills and identifies the gaps for actionably moving towards more inclusive leadership styles. With this data, you are able to meet each employee where they are with information that creates curiosity rather than resistance.
Together, these two customized datasets create the business case and actionable plan that also brings stakeholders on board to activate executive championship and greater resources to advance inclusion. Committing to and measuring inclusion may take effort, but that’s exactly why it makes all the difference.
Read more on the science of how Pulsely measures inclusion here.