Diversity is the Reward for Inclusion

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

It’s truly music to my ears when I hear others repeat our original mantra that Diversity is the reward for Inclusion. Because, of course, the whole spirit of Inclusion is to release the richness of diverse thinking and ideas that are enabled thereby.  That said, I believe the phrase warrants unpacking.

What is Diversity?
Let’s start at the very beginning, with some definitions. What do we mean by Diversity? Does it signify the minority groups that are protected by law (in the UK and elsewhere)? Is it our demographic difference that makes up Diversity? Or even wider, our identity, and intersectionality?

For us at Voice At the Table, all these aspects of Diversity are criteria that impact how we see the world. In other words, how we interpret, analyse, relate and communicate information is greatly influenced by our background, experience, identity and neural function. This unique combination of nature and nurture in each of us creates a unique perspective and, together with those of others, gives us the rich fabric of ideas and perspectives which we call Diversity of Thought.

This also explains why even a seemingly homogenous group can generate diversity of thought; although our experiences and backgrounds might be similar, we will still be sufficiently different to generate a range of thought-provoking perspectives.

That said, we also understand that homogenous groups are more susceptible to group think and blind spots. Because many in this kind of group can relate to each other’s experience, it is easy to ‘fill in the blanks’ of an idea with similar input, generating facsimiles of ideas and solutions. Take, for instance, the thought that dominated many a white, male boardroom about why women didn’t return to work once they had children.  Influenced by similar societal values of family and childcare, it was easy to believe that women preferred to stay with their small children and look after their family instead of coming back to work. This was the predominant explanation in years gone by for the vast exodus of women from the workforce once they started to have children. But the reality was far more complicated and nuanced than that.

As the recent Careers After Babies survey discovered, the reason most women don’t return to their original employer is a lack of flexibility, appreciation and value for their role once they had small children. The same survey found that most women want to return to employment.  Many of them left their original roles and went to work with smaller organisations that were able to offer a more accommodating approach to work, and many women even set up shop on their own, dictating their own terms of employment that made it possible for them to be as valuable in the workforce as they were as mothers and carers.

So, yes, a homogenous group of people is more likely to come to a false conclusion based on shared values and societal beliefs. This is why demographically diverse groups are better able to avoid the pitfalls of group think and blind spots.  In other words, diversity of thought improves vastly with the demographic diversity of the group.

What is Inclusion?
Thinking strictly in organisational terms, Inclusion is the ability to create an environment that allows people to tap into each other’s diversity of thought. This type of workplace is characterised by tolerance, respect for individuality and a true understanding of the value of Diversity.  This is a psychologically safe environment in which leaders are happy to be challenged by teammates, chasing after the success of the entire team rather than the individual. These are inclusive leaders who understand and value diversity of thought and ideas, who are highly self-aware and eager to keep learning. See our last blog for more insights into what makes an inclusive leader, and the distinct characteristics of an inclusive work environment.

Once we have managed to achieve true Inclusion, we can start to capitalise on the diversity of ideas from our work population. It’s only when people know they will be safe from repercussions (however big or small) that they might begin to offer an outsider perspective – the opposite of group think.  It starts with widening the horizons of what’s possible, leading to innovation in processes, solutions, behaviours and products. This kind of environment also nurtures curiosity and helps people to transition from offering their own solutions to asking questions that generate even better solutions. An inclusive mind understands the value of others’ input and routinely asks for the thinking of all stakeholders, from team members and suppliers to clients and those affected by the product or service.  It enables companies to truly innovate and bring value not just to its shareholders and other financial beneficiaries but also to other communities. This is how Diversity becomes the reward for Inclusion.

Why do you need both?
It is only organisations with a genuine level of Inclusion that benefit from their diverse thinkers. It isn’t enough to create a demographically diverse group if Diversity still isn’t appreciated or welcomed. This was (and in some cases still is) the experience of some women who were parachuted into boardrooms and senior leadership teams to improve their companies’ gender related statistics. But when it came to making the most of having those additional minds in the room, many women found that their perspective wasn’t welcome; they were either directly prevented from giving a full contribution or made to feel like a token hire, which often eventually led to their departure.

Diversity for the sake of Diversity is rarely a good idea. Diversity only makes good (business) sense when it is accompanied by Inclusion, by the level of empowerment that allows people to contribute with their diverse thinking.  If the surrounding minds aren’t open to the booster effect of different perspectives or solutions, Diversity efforts crash and burn.  In other words, Diversity becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy of those who think it is political correctness on overdrive, promoting those who they think shouldn’t be there in the first place.  I often remind people of Henry Ford’s famous quote: ‘If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right’.

To ensure that Diversity is truly rewarding, we must first work on being inclusive. Understanding the pillars of inclusive behaviours and working tirelessly on improving inclusive behaviours will very soon start paying dividends with diversity of ideas.  And then it will be truly possible to declare that Diversity is indeed the reward for Inclusion.

To read about some companies that have already realised these benefits, why not read our blog, Reaping the Rewards of Diversity?