What organizations get wrong about inclusion

Creating inclusivity is more than just a nice feeling, it leads to higher employee engagement, motivation and synergy resulting in real business results.

On a global scale, organizations have been responding to the call-to-action from their employees and society in instituting diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. For the most part, the responsibility of creating a diverse workforce, celebrating cultural moments and DEI training has rested squarely on the HR team. 

In more mature organizations, there might be a sprinkling of executive support and the commitment of passionate employees who volunteer their efforts. Without a chief diversity officer or DEI department, many HR leaders find themselves learning a new language, laden with responsibilities without the proper equipment to execute a fully robust strategy. 

When it comes to DEI communications, every word becomes an opportunity for scrutiny. Do we take a stance this time, or do we not? Will we be seen as conducting a performative act if we put out a statement or would we be seen as tone deaf if we fail to respond? The timeliness and sensitive nature of DEI work requiring the signatures of a hoard of executives and lawyers creates the appearance of organizational effort, yet the output of that work is rarely felt by the individual employees. 

In fact, many employees experience a dichotomy where the organization publicly makes statements that are incongruent with how employees may be treated internally. The juxtaposition of being the “face” of diversity within an organization without feeling a true sense of inclusion often leads to disengagement and a yearning to find greener pastures with organizations that live their values.

DEI is an $8 billion dollar industry. Organizations know it’s important. Yet often, the industry has missed the forest for the trees. By focusing solely on appearances and performative acts, mandatory training at the employee level without leadership accountability, and quick hiring wins instead of deep-rooted cultural change, we cannot move the dial on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Ultimately, organizations need to focus less on DEI as a means to an end, and more on the outcomes of having an enriching, inclusive culture.

Bringing diversity into the organization, particularly at senior levels, is only half of the equation. Ensuring they are comfortable, treated equitably and fairly is the other half. Being able to leverage all their talents, unique perspectives and ideas – well, that’s just good business practice. 

The impact of inclusion is often underestimated. It’s seen as synonymous with having a feeling of belonging. Yet inclusion is more than just a feeling. It’s an action. It’s the integration of a diverse team that is motivated to build together, guided by a shared vision. There is a deliberateness to valuing contributions, to teamwork and to healthy conflict. At its core, inclusion is more than acceptance; it’s an active appreciation and elevation of differences. 

Inclusion happens when all employees feel comfortable being themselves at work, feel connected to their colleagues, are aligned to the organization’s mission and are valued for their individual contributions. The synergistic energy that comes from inclusion generates new perspectives and new possibilities. This in turn leads to more creative problem solvingholistic decision making and better organizational outcomes

Yet, while most organizations value inclusiveness, few have tackled the challenge. According to a 2021 Deloitte report, 79 percent of organizations say fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce is important or very important for their success throughout the next 12 to 18 months, but only 13 percent say they are ready to address this trend. 

Creating a culture of inclusion is difficult, but it isn’t complex. It’s a series of small decisions and actions that individuals and leaders take to create an environment of equity, belonging and integration. Akin to the simplicity of diet and exercise when it comes to weight loss, it is the consistent and almost ritualistic habits of all that create an inclusive ecosystem. 

It’s about choosing to ask open-ended questions and being curious about others instead of making assumptions. It’s the willingness to dig deeper for dissenting voices and to truly listen. It’s about being generous. 

Bring people in. Hold space and time for feedback and mentorship. Give recognition and credit when it’s properly deserved and the benefit of the doubt when facts are unclear. Intentionally reach out to those who are different. Diversity makes us smarter, even if it doesn’t make collaboration easier. It’s about having a shared vision that everyone can be a part of. It’s creating an ecosystem that drives a sense of purpose and meaning for everyone to be seen, heard, understood and valued. 

Real inclusion isn’t sexy. It doesn’t readily translate to how we typically measure success in the corporate world. Inclusion is difficult to quantify into metrics and it’s difficult to articulate its journey and progression. Yet pursuing real inclusion is worth it. It’s worth it for your employees and most certainly, your business.