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Anna Sawyer


Senior Consultant

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The D&I dance: diversity and inclusion are partners not synonyms

Diversity and inclusion aren’t the same thing – they’re partners in a routine we’re all a part of.

Jane Fonda recently used her speech at the Golden Globes (she had just won the Cecil B. DeMille outstanding contribution award) to address diversity and inclusion, mentioning that in Hollywood, some are “offered a seat at the table” while others are “kept out”.  It was all the more resonant because the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which organises the Golden Globes, lacks even a single black member, nor has it had one in at least the last 20 years.

Leaders need to recognise that inclusion is different to diversity, that it relates to individuals’ feelings about work, and that it absolutely can be measured. 

Fonda’s speech echoed the often-quoted Verna Myers who said, ‘diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance’.

More recently, leaders such as Uzma Chaudry of giffgaff have challenged this, suggesting that true diversity would not need an invitation in the first place – after all, who gets to write it? Real inclusion is about ‘entering the party already dancing’.

The gold standard of diversity and inclusion?

The media and technology industries seem particularly focused on diversity and inclusion right now. Myers is, among other roles, VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix, which has just published a new study and announced a new fund for creative equity. The BBC, a more traditional broadcaster to most, has also published its 2021-2023 diversity and inclusion plan with ambitions to become the gold standard workplace.

Perhaps this focus is down to these media and technology companies understanding that their workforces, audiences and users, are drawn from richly diverse backgrounds and experiences. They also include more millennials than other industries.

Millennials have accelerated change

Millennials don’t necessarily want different things to other generations – a good job, quality of life – but they have proven much more effective at disrupting the workplace. They have driven change by being more connected, more educated and more likely to change jobs frequently.

They are also more ethnically and racially diverse as a generation and more likely to value and support diversity and inclusion in ways that are meaningful. As consumers and employees, they expect their employers and the brands they favour to meet their expectations.

This is what the BBC is trying to achieve, with its focus on apprenticeships and an overhaul of recruitment to reach communities currently underrepresented in its workforce. It will also focus on senior positions in a drive to diversify its leadership. Behaviour training and toolkits’ to tackle non-inclusive behaviour and improve decision-making, and improved accessibility and consultation with disabled staff, also feature in the to-do list.

The plan reflects the BBC’s 50:20:12 diversity targets, announced in September 2020 – specific goals to achieve a workforce of: 50% women; at least 20% BAME; and at least 12% disabled employees.

Diversity doesn’t necessarily equal inclusion

The BBC’s strategy is undeniably clear about increasing diversity, but perhaps not so clear about how it will improve inclusion. Increasing diversity, as the BBC aims to do, is important and can build inclusivity. Gallup’s Center for Black Voices found that in companies with black representation among the leadership, 56% of black employees felt comfortable being themselves. Among those with low or no representation, that fell to 7%.

Diversity does not guarantee inclusiveness, however, which is about respect and acceptance. Employers must also guard against the risk of assimilation;  inclusion is not achieved by saying, ‘of course you are welcome – come and be like us’.

Inclusive workplaces value diverse opinions and experiences

The uniqueness of an individual is valuable. The cognitive diversity brought by different people’s experiences and approaches offers more creativity and productivity than comes from a course or toolkit. People will only share their experiences, however, if they feel comfortable enough to speak up, and to know whether they do, you must measure how included they feel.  

If they do, and your company treasures these diverse opinions and ideas, you will see benefits in increased staff retention and advocacy as well as creativity, problem solving and all round performance.

How to measure inclusion

Gallup’s studies of more than 200 organisations revealed three requirements for a diverse and inclusive culture:

  • Employees are treated with respect
  • Employees are valued for their strengths
  • Leaders do what is right.

We also found that many organisations are coming up short – only 55% of respondents strongly agree that their organisation promotes diversity and inclusion.

Employees are treated with respect

Lack of respect clearly inhibits inclusion, but it also correlates with reported discrimination – 90% of those who say they are not treated with respect also report at least one experience of discrimination or harassment at work.

It also means they’re not happy in their workplace. While 60% of those who are treated with respect are extremely satisfied with where they work, among those who do not feel they are treated with respect only 14% say the same.

Employees are valued for their strengths

Employees should be recognised for who they are – and who they’re not. Focusing on strengths helps us understand the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of ourselves and our colleagues. It provides a positive and objective language for discussions about inclusion, engagement and performance.    

Recognising and individualising their experience, helps employees to make sense of an organisation’s mission, objectives and values, illuminating how they personally can help to meet these.  

Leaders do what is right

Gallup research shows that at least 70% of the variation in engagement is down to an individual’s immediate managers and engagement is critical for inclusion.

Both are predictive of whether employees feel they can trust their leaders to do the right thing.

Everyone wins

More and more organisations are prioritising diversity and inclusion. To really deliver, they must go beyond counting ethnicity and gender, or adding basic infrastructure.

Leaders need to recognise that inclusion is different to diversity, that it relates to individuals’ feelings about work, and that it absolutely can be measured. From here, gaps in culture, structures and knowledge can be uncovered, and support can be prioritised where it is most needed.

Giving your managers the right coaching and resources, reliably and relentlessly, will equip them to have the conversations with their teams that acknowledge individuals’ strengths and foster inclusion.

In organisations doing this well, employees will benefit, and productivity and performance will improve too. Get it right and it means that, just like Jane Fonda, we can all be winners.

Interested in this topic? Read Diversity, equality and inclusion: taking a data-driven approach that addresses intersectionality.

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Anna Sawyer

Senior Consultant

Read more from Anna Sawyer

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