Diversity and Inclusion: The basis of a strong & unified team

Diversity and inclusion are hotbed topics throughout society. Actor Tom Cruise recently returned his Golden Globe awards to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in protest over the organization’s glaring lack of diversity. That’s just one example of how high-profile individuals are reacting to the growing demand for equal representation. 

But what do diversity and inclusion really mean, and why are they so important to have in professional settings? What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

First, recognize that diversity and inclusion are two separate concepts, though they’re often mentioned in tandem and certainly have exponentially greater impact when embraced together.

Diversity in the workplace is the practice of building an in-house team that’s representative of society by including members of varying races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, abilities and other attributes and characteristics that may be either visible or invisible. 

Inclusion is ensuring that those individuals are all accepted, treated equally and given the same professional opportunities such as contributing to projects or being promoted to leadership positions.

In a nutshell, diversity empowers individuals by bringing them into your organization, while inclusion gives them the tools and platform to be successful.

What ISN’T diversity and inclusion?

The biggest mistake people make about diversity and inclusion in the workplace is assuming that simply hiring a broad spectrum of employees is enough. It’s not. 

Simply ticking boxes on some kind of diversity checklist does little in terms of diversifying your workplace, enriching your talent pool or showing the people you bring on board that you value them from what they have to offer.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t talking points. They aren’t trends or something that will “blow over” as soon as people realize “we’re all really the same.” 

People from different cultures or who are differently abled have different life experiences that shape how they work and who they are. If you hire to meet some kind of quota but fail to foster a feeling of belonging that allows employees all along the spectrum to thrive, you’re doing everyone a disservice.

There are many common myths about diversity and inclusion as well, such as:

  • Diverse hires are chosen because of their difference rather than their qualifications
  • Diversity is all about race
  • Paying attention to diversity and inclusion just panders to people who are obsessed with political correctness
  • If we focus on hiring for diversity, I may lose out on more talented candidates
  • Creating a more diverse workforce could breed conflict

All of these statements are false, and many are grounded in the same personal biases discussed above. We tend to think that a group of people with different backgrounds, belief systems and cultures will automatically be contentious but that is not always the case, especially when they’re given the tools to work together harmoniously. 

Believing diverse hires can’t also be valued for their skills is clear prejudice, and hiring for diversity is more than being PC, it benefits your existing employees and your company. As for what diversity entails, it’s much more than race; whenever possible, teams should also be diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, abilities, religion, personality types, family makeup, nationality and so on.

Why are the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion so hard to understand?

The concepts of diversity and inclusion can be difficult for some people to grasp because there is no concrete definition. The meaning of those terms and even how they’re put into practice keeps changing, and rightfully so. As society evolves, so does our view of what constitutes diversity and how we can be inclusive. Things that might have been acceptable a decade ago no longer are.

It can also be a struggle to interview and hire people that are different from us. We all carry types of unconscious bias, or prejudices that we don’t really know we have but that are simmering under the surface of our subconscious thanks to outside influences like societal pressure and institutional discrimination. You might wonder if a candidate in a wheelchair can keep up with typically abled peers or if an interviewee who speaks English as a second language is as qualified as someone who is “native” or fluent.

To move forward with diversity and inclusion, sometimes we have to first get out of our own way and get out of our own heads. Working past those common myths and reframing our understanding of diversity and inclusion is a huge first step in a complicated process.

Just as inclusion doesn’t happen overnight, neither does overcoming inherent biases and cultural misunderstandings that may run generations deep.

How understanding and incorporating diversity and inclusion can build strong teams

Perhaps the biggest problem surrounding diversity and inclusion is that we still think of it as a problem. For many HR departments and managerial teams, diversity is still viewed as something of a headache when it should be reimagined as a chance to outsmart and outthink the competition.

Study after study showcases the strong links between diversity and inclusion and professional success. Becoming more diverse and fostering a sense of belonging is massively beneficial.

  • Diverse organizations outperform non-diverse competitors by 35%
  • Companies that publicly embrace and support diversity and inclusion often attract higher-quality candidates
  • Having a diverse workforce allows you to better understand consumers, for instance putting together marketing teams that mirror the demographics that will be targeted in an upcoming campaign
  • Highly inclusive organizations are more profitable, generating as much as 2.3x more cash flow per employee
  • Diverse organizations that emphasize inclusivity help their employees feel more engaged, and engaged employees are more loyal, call out sick less and are 17% more productive overall.

There are benefits to laying out corporate guidelines for inclusivity and respect, too. When employees feel safe and respected, they’re more likely to express themselves and share ideas. Diversity and inclusion should be more than a concept, it should be written into your mission statement and used to guide things like recruitment, project management and the construction of mentorship programs.

For more information on this important topic, learn how KeepWOL fosters inclusivity and diversity at work.