Diversity and Inclusion: Buzzwords for 2015

Diversity and Inclusion tag cloud which encompasses several factors that affect the issue

Diversity and Inclusion tag cloud which encompasses several factors that affect the issue

Every year, the American business sector sees paradigm shifts in operations or in thought leadership. These are called industry trends and buzzwords. Executives and management teams of companies pay expert analysts to accurately predict these trends ahead of time, ultimately, to maximize corporate profits. Over the past decade or so, “Diversity and Inclusion”  is one such trends that has become increasingly popular in the business world.

Historically, this topic has been considered to belong in the academic and activist spheres of life. There, the ideas of diversity and inclusion are debated, philosophized, studied, and protested about. In the business and professional sectors, diversity and inclusion have usually made periodic appearances in the form of Equal Opportunity Laws and other such standard business policy instruments.

In the past few years however, diversity and inclusion have become the target of many corporate spotlights, both nationally and globally. Topics of conversations, initiatives and even opportunities in this area have gained momentum. They are now considered necessary components of a healthy organizational culture. But, until as recently as 2010, the concepts of diversity and inclusion have most often been discussed together, in one breath, with the understanding that the two concepts are synonymous, and completely intertwined with each other, almost like a pair of inseparable conjoined twins. In fact, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Diversity as:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 3.10.34 PM

But, this definition is not true. The condition of being different is not the same as belonging to a group because of, or despite, that difference. Therefore inclusion isn’t and shouldn’t be subsumed by diversity.

Diversity-iceberg-intuit

The various aspects of diversity. Found at: http://blog.hughmolotsi.com/2009/06/recently-ive-gotten-few-questions-on.html

Diversity and Inclusion are two distinctly unique and inter-related concepts that need to be addressed separately. By itself, diversity describes the categorization of people and/or objects across the entire spectrum of possibilities that may exist. It is a part of the natural state of the world, across all species. Other than that, it doesn’t describe or imply anything else. It does not group these various categories together or separately.  Diversity teaches us that there are many social groups in life; it doesn’t set up social and cultural values and distances to these different groups. This is an important point to consider, because it has extremely drastic implications in the implementation of diversity initiatives in organizations and groups. This essentially means that simply establishing diversity categories and quotas is necessary but not sufficient to improve organizational culture.

 

 

 

diversity-wo-inclusion-like

Diversity and Inclusion, while distinct concepts, are inter-related, so much so that the one doesn’t make sense without the other.

Inclusion is the only instrument that allows organizations to follow through on their diversity goals by implementing diversity strategies into action. Inclusion is a man-made creation. It is the “doable” part of diversity, that allows people to leverage group similarities and differences to everyone’s advantage. It means respecting and accepting another person despite his or her differences, and, allowing him or her the same fair options as the rest of the group.What this means is that it is possible to have an extremely diverse group that is not even remotely inclusive, just as it is possible to have a broadly inclusive group that is only marginally diverse.  In fact, this exact distinction is the cause of many social conflicts and protests in the United States throughout our nation’s history.

Currently, there are countless conversations in the public and online domains, where we can find tens of thousands of opinions, articles, stories and campaigns on the issue of inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are topics that millions of people around the country are extremely opinionated and vocal about, especially because of the proliferation of social media channels. This is to be expected, given the passionate nature of the current social, economic, and political tensions in the United States on issues of race, immigration status, and, gender.

 

time use survey 14When we move over to the business sector however, conversations about inclusion become oddly muted. In the average 24-hour day, an American between the ages of 25 and 54 spends more than 50% of his or her day (not counting sleep) at “work”. Yet, employees hesitate to participate in diversity and inclusion conversations in the workplace due to the emotional and sensitive nature of the topics. Many employees state that they don’t wish to cause turbulence and turmoil in their professional lives, and, that they are afraid for their reputations, their place within their work group, and even their job securities. Individuals members of groups and organizations are taught to keep their personal opinions invisible and separate from work related activities. The fundamental social nature of almost any work environment completely contradicts this artificial and restricted structure, yet, it is still enforced in countless policies for the protection of organizational interests and assets.

The very idea that this kind of passion for inclusion has no business being in the workplace, drastically impacts people’s sense of belongingness and loyalty to the organization. When people mask their opinions and parts of their identities at the work place, it renders their daily lives and interactions inauthentic. In fact the failure to address inclusion issues of diverse employee groups, has been cited as one of the most important factors in increased employee turnover in many organizations across the United States. This is also the reason diversity initiatives in corporate groups may fail to have any significant impact. The bottom-line for most if not all business operations is based on numbers. Whether these numbers are reflected in the demographics, in the performance, or in the profit margins, numbers rule life. By focusing on quantifiable “quotas” however, the concept of diversity is most often reduced to mere employee categorization. Unless these diversity findings are analyzed and leveraged into initiatives that converge and include greater numbers of people based on similarities, these diversity ventures are not worth the resources they are allocated by management.

Ultimately, the conversation about diversity and inclusion in an organization or a group needs to happen between all the members, and not just theoretically around a boardroom table. The focus of all system-wide initiatives should be on inclusion of people, and not on categorizations based on differences. Whether a company has well-established rules and norms of diversity, or whether it is just starting out, it is absolutely imperative for all its members to be involved in an ever-evolving conversation about inclusion. What exactly should this conversation entail? Well, that is a completely different topic of its own for the next blog post.

 

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  1. […] wars and uprisings, governmental collapses and social movements and campaigns on the issues of diversity, inclusion and equality. No conversation on inter-group relationships is complete without a discussion on stereotypes, […]