Diversity, Inclusion Are Equal, But Not the Same

Diversity, Inclusion Are Equal, But Not the Same

Sometimes, the word “inclusion” gets confused with “diversity,” says Terri Cooper, chief inclusion officer for Deloitte.

“Boards have been working for years to improve diversity in their own ranks,” Cooper says. “And when we think about diversity on boards, a lot of the focus is really from the point of view of ensuring there’s the appropriate gender representation, race [and]ethnicity representation, etc. However, we truly believe focusing on diversity without inclusion really isn’t enough.”

Cooper defines diversity as “the presence of people who, as a group, have a wide range of characteristics — seen and unseen — with which they were born or have acquired.” Inclusion, she says, is “the practice of making all members of an organization feel welcome and giving them the opportunity to connect, belong and grow — to contribute to the organization, advance their skill sets and careers, and feel comfortable and confident being their authentic selves.”

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She uses the analogy that diversity is “like being invited to a party. But inclusion is really like being asked to dance. There’s a subtle difference.”

The subtle difference can have significant impacts, according to Deloitte research. Organizations with inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes and twice as likely to exceed their financial goals, Cooper says.

Business leaders often ask how the needle is moved. The same report shows that companies with inclusive leaders help boost overall team performance by 17% and add a 20% edge in decision-making quality and a 29% increase in team collaboration, she says.

And when it comes to human capital, diversity and inclusion improves the ability to attract, engage and retain employees, she says.

Deloitte interviewed more than 3,000 young professionals in the United States and found that 80% of them view inclusion as an important factor in choosing a company. More than a third (39%) indicated they would leave their current employer for a more inclusive one. In that same vein, 23% of employees said they have previously left an organization for a more inclusive company.

In effect, Cooper says, boards have the potential to influence diversity, equity and inclusion, and directors have a responsibility to do so.

Cooper quotes Lester Lyles, a retired U.S. Air Force general and the chairman of USAA:

“Where the board can influence inclusion is in asking questions like ‘What is management doing to ensure that people at all levels and of all backgrounds have an opportunity to be developed and mentored into the senior management levels?’”

Cooper cites six signature traits of an inclusive leader:

  • Cognizance: Because bias is a leader’s Achilles heel.
  • Courage: Because talking about imperfections involves personal risk-
  • taking.
  • Commitment: Because staying the course is hard.
  • Curiosity: Because making assumptions is dangerous.
  • Cultural intelligence: Because not everyone sees the world through the same cultural frame.
  • Collaboration: Because a diverse-thinking team is greater than the sum of its parts.

Cooper urges directors to “really challenge yourselves, and ask yourself, ‘Is your board truly governing with diversity, equity and inclusion?’ Really take this seriously and think about how you can influence, for the good of all of us, that board.”