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Is It Time To Divide Diversity From Inclusion?

Does Diversity & Inclusion strategy actually make sense to consider together? Deb Fortin & John Vincent, founders of The Submarine Way, and I discussed this very question last week at lunch.

As consultants in the workplace culture space, we spend a lot of our time figuring out the ever-present, elusive question “Who is our target market?” Surprisingly, each of us has independently experienced that Diversity & Inclusion leaders are often reluctant to invest in the latest thinking around inclusion. We each have turned to other leadership roles who view and value inclusion initiatives differently. We’re not sure that the best approach is for Diversity & Inclusion to be handled by the same leader — and here’s my brief thought process on why.

The emergence of Diversity as a field has its roots in the legal realm. Think affirmative action. At the core, the goal is to increase representation of diverse individuals throughout organizations – both in terms of hiring and in terms of promotion. This has led to efforts focused on Talent Acquisition (hiring targets) and Employee Resource Groups (for support, mentorship, and advocates for advancement). We count and report differences: the number of women, the number of African Americans, the number of Asians, and so on. It’s inherently designed to decrease ethical and legal risks for the company.

Inclusion initiatives represent a different kind of thinking. It has roots in unleashing talent’s potential, building workplace community, and driving innovation. Rather than avoiding costs and risks, inclusion is about increasing organizational performance and growth. This leads to efforts that increase communication and collaboration between individuals of different backgrounds. Rather than counting differences, we measure connections made, respect felt, sense of safety in spaces — all measures related to what occurs between groups.

As a consequence, D&I Leaders are a mixed bag. Some are still in the world of solely promoting diversity. This means sticking closely to definitions like “embracing the differences we all bring,” which can sound at odds with inclusive ideas such as:

  • bringing different people together to find points of relatedness
  • seeking common ground
  • demonstrating equal respect

Ironically, embracing differences has led to creating silos and a fear of talking about similarity.

Proposing and providing inclusive solutions to leaders of the diversity mindset often fail, because it seems contradictory to their goals. Making the transition from diversity to diversity AND inclusion hasn’t happened yet.

Other leaders understand Inclusion, but are so mired in counting the numbers that designing the next level of strategy is overwhelming. The needs of yesterday still need to be met. They wonder, “How can we have the capacity to design growth and performance in addition to avoiding risks and ensuring the fundamentals?” and “Do we have the right skill set as leaders to bring about these changes?”

In my book, I try to create a healthy marriage between Diversity and Inclusion through the concept of Coversity, inspired by millennial behavior online. I highlight that, on the Internet, physical traits like gender, ethnicity, and so on tend to be more invisible and that groups are organized by topic instead.

I recommend bringing the concept offline and creating resource groups based on Topic rather than Physical Trait. So for example, instead of having African American, Asian, and Latino networks, have an Ethnicity network, where anyone who wants to talk and learn about cross-cultural differences can. This creates a space to explore common ground, respect, and equality among differences. Furthermore, within the Ethnicity network, sub-networks can still exist to provide the safe spaces, mentorship, and advocacy opportunities.

However, I still wonder if we need to create separation in the field. Should we have leaders focused on promoting Diversity, who lead Employee Resource Groups and have strong linkages internally to Talent Acquisition and Promotions? And separately, leaders who are focused on promoting Inclusion, who lead Culture change initiatives and have strong linkages to IT (to create digital collaboration) and Innovation (to highlight diverse ideas)?

From a human capital standpoint, to me, it seems Diversity fits more in the more tactical Human Resources field along with compensation, benefits, and so on. In contrast, perhaps Inclusion fits more in the Organization Development/Talent Development realm. Although many would argue that point as HR makes advances as well into the strategic arena!

What do you think? Love to hear your comments below!

Crystal Kadakia is a two-time TEDx thought leader, international keynote speaker, and author of The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs. Her practice, Invati Consulting, helps Fortune 500 companies navigate the intersection of two of today’s most vital trends, millennial behavior, and future of work, through strategy, training, and organizational design interventions. She is known for her work shifting mindsets of executive leaders and helping shape powerful organizational strategy that thrives in the face of industry disruption.