For the last few years, more and more organisations are changing mind sets on diversity; acknowledging that diversity is not impactful without inclusion.
Inclusion or inclusive cultures enable all voices to be heard, provide psychological safety & belonging for all employees. Inclusion is the support for a collaborative environment that values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives that has a positive impact on business. Leadership at such an organisation is transparent, communicative, and engaging.
However the reverse is also true- inclusion is not impactful without acknowledging both inherent and acquired diversity.
Inherent diversity refers to the traits we are all born with including skin colour, gender, cultural background, sexual orientation. This is the diversity that makes some of us uncomfortable in workplaces; to acknowledge that conscious and unconscious biases exist in ourselves (and organisational processes) towards people who are different to us.
Acquired diversity refers to differing perspectives on ideas and unique insights into problems acquired through different experiences. This recently has become known as cognitive diversity. For example, the different perspective a posting to an overseas assignment brings, or, the different thinking styles in a team such as reflective, analytical, etc…
When people can work in an inclusive workplace where diversity is the norm — both inherent & acquired diversity— this in turn, yields a commitment to creating innovation throughout organisations. Workforces with a combination of inherent and acquired diversity and a focus on inclusion, avoid groupthink through cultures that welcome out of the box ideas. Page’s research has shown the collective intelligence from a diverse group of individuals (both inherent & acquired diversity) more frequently delivers more viable and innovative solutions than from an individual or a group of homogenous individuals, even those with higher IQs or expertise (1). There is self-reported correlation among companies whose leaders exhibit inherent and acquired diversity and year-over-year growth in market share (2).
Inclusion is the method; diversity is the measure (acquired & inherent); diversity of thought and contributing to every day innovation is the ultimate outcome.
In the last 5-10 years, diversity of thought has become the term to describe the benefits of both inclusion, and diversity. Except there is a disconnect/ it feels more comfortable to focus on inclusion and cognitive diversity and stop already with the counting of people.
Focusing exclusively on inclusion and diversity of thought reproduces the status quo- many current tech firms comprised of only white men below 40 have both high levels of inclusion and different perspectives (or acquired diversity) that come from their personal history (growing up rural, city, large family, single parent), but with no inherent diversity.
Historically in organisations, diversity has been the focus of compliance, or counting people, and there is criticism from some on how this focus on inherent diversity produces better outcomes or decisions. Inherent diversity has been typically managed by diversity councils, mentoring, representative/ networking /employee resource groups as a HR effort. In 2011 as IBM’s Diversity Recruitment Leader, with a group of senior leaders at IBM’s Global Diversity Summit, we were challenged on a mindset shift from the keynote speaker, Andres Tapias on bringing dual focus to Inclusion & Diversity. At that time, IBM had more than 230 Diversity Network Groups across the world.
Many organisations are also challenged with the same mindset shift; focusing on inclusion to breakdown barriers for all, without losing the focus on both acquired and inherent diversity. But how this can actually play out in organisations is where non-white people and/or women are labelled as “diverse” given an employee group to join, and “inclusion” becomes a segregated channel for everyone who isn’t a white man to discuss among themselves.
Last year, Deloitte US announced that it was time to move past inherent diversity groups or representative groups, phasing out groups like the Women’s Initiative (WIN) and LGBT group Globe, and replacing them with “inclusion councils” where all employees are welcome as an attempt to bring the majority — white men — into the conversation. This move follows new research (4) from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative revealing that Millennials view cognitive diversity as a critical element for innovation, and are rejecting current programs and frameworks organisations are using today to foster inclusiveness.
This strategy has been echoed by some organisations and government where inclusion councils are replacing diversity groups. Mitchell Services provided advice to a large client considering replacing a Senior Women’s Network with the executive all-male inclusion council (modelled on the Male Champions of Change ). Our consulting work with large and small organisations shows over and over that momentum for diversity and inclusion requires champions throughout organisations, not just at an executive level. Diversity groups, representative groups, or employee resource groups are important- call it an inclusion council- but you can’t advocate for women in leadership without having women leaders in the room advocating for themselves. Recent research shows when inherently diverse senior leaders publicly value and drive diversity, they disrupt stereotypes that as minorities, they will play a supporting, rather than a leading role (6).
Employee reference groups enable change at all levels, complementing senior leadership-driven diversity and inclusion strategies within organisations. Well-managed ERGs can ignite inclusion and build alliances across inherent and acquired diversity in the workplace. Building bridges among ERGs, between ERGs and other areas of the business, and opening membership and/or ERG activities to broader audiences is essential.
As for Deloittes’ millennial research- that millennials uniqueness in viewing cognitive diversity as essential for an inclusive culture- this is positive showing the value of Diversity & Inclusion as a critical tool that enables business competitiveness and growth. However just focusing on cognitive diversity is not the full story. Deloittes’ millennial research predicting that milennials will flood leadership ranks and change the existing status quo hasn’t quite panned out to date ala Silicon Valley. Young leaders who may need no convincing about gender equality may find a different experience when they are looking to progress to senior roles, at which time the issues to leadership can be very different focused on maintaining the current status quo of leadership.
6. Hekeman. & Johnson (2016). “Does valuing diversity result in worse performance ratings for minority and female leaders?