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What's the Difference Between Diversity & Inclusion?

The terms diversity and inclusion have often been used interchangeably over the years, but what many people don’t realise is that, while similar, they actually have two entirely different definitions.

To give you some insight into these concepts and what they mean, below we set the record straight on what each one represents and how they work together to create better, more balanced working environments. 

Team Bonding Hands In The Middle

What is diversity?

By definition, diversity at work refers to a workforce consisting of people with a wide range of variations and characteristics. Among other things, these include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender identities
  • Cultural background
  • Socio-economic status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious and political beliefs, and
  • Physical abilities and disabilities

However, when it comes to achieving true workplace diversity, organisations should attempt to go beyond hiring based on these social categories and consider what characteristics further distinguish individual employees from one another. This includes getting to know their personal preferences, hobbies, and notable skillsets.

What is inclusion?

Inclusion, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a work environment that’s succeeded in creating a diverse culture by having processes in place that enable employees to not only participate as equals but to thrive as individuals.

This means that each employee’s perspectives and contributions should be valued and - regardless of their diversity dimension - have ample opportunity to do their best work and progress their careers.

What’s the difference?

Put simply, while diversity is the ‘what’, inclusion is the ‘how’ in this equation.

In other words, diversity refers to what characteristics make up a diverse workforce while inclusion is how businesses create a work environment that makes employees feel that their differences are valued, appreciated, and something to be proud of.

Girl With Disability At Laptop

Why is workplace diversity important?

Too often organisations focus their diversity efforts on simply hiring for diversity (i.e. hiring more women or people of colour) rather than effectively retaining it. This is why diversity partnered with inclusion in the workplace is so important - because without creating a culture that actively embraces diversity, companies run the risk of producing a toxic, unhappy working environment.

When organisations work to embrace diversity and inclusion, however, they positively influence the business environment, workforce, and the bottom line in a number of ways, including: 

  • Varied perspectives: Being open to learning from different backgrounds as well as varied personal and working experiences offers a wider variety of diverse and thoughtful perspectives that help drive innovation. 
  • Better problem-solving: Hiring and retaining a range of diverse people tends to result in a more well-rounded workforce, encouraging people to work smarter and come to effective solutions sooner, resulting in a higher quality of work. 
  • Increased profits: According to studies by McKinsey & Company, 33% to 35% of companies are more likely to outperform their industry averages financially upon retaining high levels of racial and ethnic diversity. To add, 15% to 21% of companies are also more likely to outperform when they retain higher levels of gender diversity. 
  • More job applicants: When organisations advertise and prove their commitment to diversity and inclusion, people catch wind of it fast. This means that as your company grows its positive reputation regarding equal opportunities, your company not only captures a larger share of the market but a larger pool of applicants who want to work for the business. 
  • Happier employees: People are proud to work for companies that celebrate diversity and practice inclusion. It helps them feel that they belong, ensuring employees are happier at work and more loyal to the business. 

In summary, it’s fair to say that workplace diversity and inclusion are important because together they’re the lock and key to a better business, opening the door to long-term organisational success. 

Wheelchair User At Laptop

Tips on Creating a More Diverse & Inclusive Culture

If you’re a leader, manager, or simply a well-meaning employee who wants to help champion diversity and inclusion in your organsation, here are a few tips that should help you get things moving forward:

1. Educate leaders (and staff)

When a leader takes on the task of guiding their teams to success, part of that is creating an inclusive work experience that makes employees feel safe and secure enough to speak up when it matters and comfortable enough to build strong relationships with their co-workers.

However, HR practitioners often don’t realise that leaders don’t necessarily know what it means when they’re told to create an inclusive culture within their teams.

To this end, it’s important for HR to put plans in place to routinely educate leaders and staff on diversity and inclusion (i.e. via training seminars or workshops) so that people not only understand its importance but support it through their daily actions. The knowledge and skills on how to remain inclusive at work should be core competencies for business leaders and employees alike, and this means being educated, trained, and held accountable on how to manage real-world scenarios that deal with diversity and inclusion, such as:

  • Learning how to recognise and mitigate unconscious bias among co-workers and employees.
  • Supervising an employee with a physical disability and being able to accommodate them accordingly. 
  • Working with an employee or co-worker who is neurodiverse and coming to understand their strengths. 
  • Learning how to best manage an employee who is a single parent and deals with challenging child care issues.

The list goes on.

2. Celebrate diversity

Creating an inclusive workplace means taking the time to celebrate the people who make up your diverse workforce. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do this that makes everyone feel included while keeping things both fun and educational, including:

  • Acknowledging and celebrating each employee’s religion and culture (i.e. preparing and following a cultural celebration calendar). 
  • Encouraging participation among team members whether you’re a leader or an employee (perhaps even making time for an after-work happy hour at a fun new international spot?!).
  • Creating your own workplace traditions so that every employee has something in common and something else to bond over.

3. Hold more effective meetings

Workplace meetings are a prime example of an environment where employees are encouraged to speak up and bounce off one another’s thoughts and ideas, however, meetings can often veer off track and even become ineffective (especially when employees are ill-prepared).

That’s why it’s a great idea to reconsider the ways in which you can help with making meetings more inclusive and effective. These include:

  • Distributing meeting materials in advance, along with an agenda to ensure things run the appropriate course (this is also helpful for workers for whom English is a second language or for introverted employees who may need more time to process information).
  • Ensuring you have the right technology for remote workers so they can have a meaningful experience from wherever they are.
  • Mixing up or rotating meeting times if you have remote workers in varying time zones.
  • Giving credit where it’s due among employees and co-workers, including pointing out who came up with a new idea or who’s in line to manage the next big project.
  • Being aware of your communication style (i.e. being courteous and not interrupting others ae well as pausing for those who may be tuning in virtually)

4. Review company guidelines

Organisations should aim to establish diversity and inclusion at the core of their business practices. In doing so, they not only show their commitment to creating diverse workplaces, but they ultimately create work environments where inclusivity becomes an action rather than just an ideal.

To do this effectively, companies should take care to review their guidelines, goals, and progress by taking the following actions:

  • Establishing diversity and inclusion goals, including the reasons for these goals (i.e. diversity equity)
  • Determining how these goals will impact your mission, brand, and bottom line.
  • Auditing your HR and L&D processes, including recruitment, hiring, training, develop, and retaining employees.
  • Identifying where you can improve and effectively measure inclusivity.
  • Developing and executing inclusion strategies with data-driven plans and measurable results.
  • Holding leaders and staff accountable for making diversity and inclusion a priority and implementing it efficiently.
Team Meeting And Hand Shake

We hope that after reading this you understand what the difference between diversity and inclusion is and why it is that one without the other simply doesn’t produce the desired outcome (which is, ultimately, creating a diverse, inclusive, and equal working environment). 

This makes diversity coupled with inclusion not only impactful but essential to long-term business success and forward-thinking practices.

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