Group of diverse individuals huddled together smiling

The business case for diversity has become a popular lens through which companies now approach this topic, counteracting the view held by many that diversity is too intangible and thus a hard sell at the top. The data in support of the business case is promising: companies with diverse management teams are more likely to introduce new product innovations than are those with homogeneous leaders.[1] Decisions made and executed by diverse teams are improved by 60%. And, immigrants’ participation in the workforce is linked to high levels of entrepreneurship that benefit the economy. For example, in the U.S., immigrants are almost twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as U.S.-born citizens.

And yet, too often diversity and inclusion are conflated or used interchangeably when in fact they describe two different phenomena. If diversity is about who is around your decision-making table, inclusion is about whether or not all of the different voices are heard and have an equal chance to influence the process, even when they’re not part of the majority. Inclusion is about how people feel when they’re at your table and whether they want to come back.

A culture of inclusion isn’t just a nice thing to have: research shows it is key to business success and longevity. Data cited in the Deloitte Review, Issue 22, shows that “diversity without inclusion is worth less than when the two are combined.”  For example, organizations with an inclusive culture are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets and three times more likely to be high performing, in addition to a number of other positive outcomes.[2] This, combined with data that shows diverse teams outperform homogenous teams in decision-making, makes diversity + inclusion a high-impact combination.

These findings are not surprising considering the human psychology behind learning and motivation. We can think of it as the business equivalent of the home advantage in sports – when we feel ‘at home’ we play better.

Seeing inclusion, and not simply diversity, as crucial to the organization’s health helps refocus the “why” in “why we need to eliminate bias from our hiring practices,” or “why we need to put in place policies and protocols against workplace harassment.”

To better understand this, just think about a meeting or an interaction at work when you felt at ease and a part of the team: how were you acting, and what were others able to observe in you? Now, think about a time when you felt excluded or out of place: how were you feeling, and how were you behaving? What was your body language like, and how invested were you in the outcome?

Inclusion means employees from non-dominant social groups don’t have to spend extra energy overcoming daily hurdles in the form of micro-aggressions, bias and stereotypes directed at them. When those barriers are removed, their energy can be directed toward creativity, innovation and collaboration with their colleagues.

So where do companies start to ensure they are tapping into the diversity potential of their workforce and are intentional about inclusion?

  • Start by better understanding the composition of your workforce. If you don’t know who is working for you, how will you know who you’re failing to include? For small companies under 50 this may sound superfluous. But not all forms of diversity are visible or apparent, and we may be making a lot of assumptions that are unhelpful and risky. When given an opportunity, employees may share parts of their identity that are integral to their feeling safe, supported and included.
  • Discuss your strategy at the senior level and decide what type of an assessment tool, or perhaps a combination of tools, best meets your needs. For example, a blend of voluntary self-identifying census questions combined with questions rating satisfaction and feelings of inclusivity, along with open-ended questions that invite feedback, can help provide a fuller picture of the organization’s baseline before jumping into D&I initiatives.
  • You may come across those who feel that asking employees to share information such as religion and sexual orientation is too personal and will make them feel uncomfortable. While this fear is understandable, it may be a projection of the sceptic’s own discomfort. These feelings are likely grounded in a view of diversity more in line with tolerating and even minimizing differences versus celebrating, valuing and actively incorporating them into the organization’s life. Meet resistance with preparation: be ready to offer supportive evidence and clarify potential myths and misconceptions about diversity surveys and their purpose. Put sceptics at ease by providing examples of companies and industries that are implementing census and engagement surveys with success, and draw on such authoritative sources as the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s guidelines on collecting demographic data.

We continue to explore additional strategies for advancing inclusion in our next issue of the Harmony@Work newsletter – stay tuned!

By Ilaneet Goren, social worker and Director of Workplace Learning and Development at Harmony Movement.


[1] Max Nathan & Neil Lee (2013) Cultural Diversity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: Firm-level Evidence from London, Economic Geography, 89:4, 367-394, DOI: 10.1111/ecge.12016

[2] Delloite 2018. Delloite Review, Issue 22, Jan 22, 2018. Link.