Diversity is Not Enough: Why HR Should Champion Inclusion in the Workplace

Inclusion is frequently rolled in with diversity initiatives, but there’s more to inclusion than measuring demographics and preventing discrimination. In a truly inclusive culture, everyone feels heard and valued. 

“So many times we hear the words diversity and inclusion used interchangeably,” says Eileen Scully, founder of The Rising Tides and author of In the Company of Men. Diversity is about the numbers, and inclusion is about the culture, she says. Creating an inclusive culture can make a huge difference for employers.

Here’s why HR should champion inclusion in the workplace.

Allow People to Bring Their Whole Selves to Work

Outdated policies and guidelines can prevent companies from creating an inclusive culture. For example, standards for “professional” hair or dress are often exclusionary to employees with certain ethnic or religious backgrounds. Policies banning traditional ways people of color often wear their hair have been shown to harm black employees. Many states have introduced legislation banning discrimination based on natural hair.

“That's an overt example of not being inclusive,” says Siri Chilazi, research fellow at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. “But it can also be much more subtle — as humans, we're naturally very attuned to what other people are doing.”

Even if those behaviors aren’t written into policies, minority employees will pick up on workplace social and cultural norms. Most workplace norms reflect homogeneous workforces and don’t account for diversity. Minority employees often feel like they have to conform to those norms before they can be accepted at work.

Cultivate Different Perspectives to Drive Innovation

The right business decisions rely on an abundance of knowledge, and that comes from employee perspectives. We’ve all had different experiences that shaped our perspectives. Tapping into that difference is critical for solving business problems and meeting clients’ and consumers’ needs.

“Minority employees should feel valued when they challenge colleagues in a conversation or raise new viewpoints,” Chilazi says. “Instead of that being shot down because ‘It’s not the way we do things,’ it should be embraced as an opportunity to learn from perspectives we've never heard before.” Groupthink dampens creativity and innovation, but a truly inclusive workplace that values a range of voices and experiences creates an environment where new ideas can flourish.

Connect Authentically With Your Customers

Diverse employees are better able to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population. For example, globally the LGBTQ+ community has $3.7 trillion in purchasing power. Without hearing and respecting LGBTQ+ points of view within your organization, you risk missing out on valuable perspectives — and profit.

Companies that rank in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to enjoy financial returns above the medium for their respective national industry. Other research has shown similar results, with inclusion driving gains in everything from innovation to market share. Shareholders recognize the impact inclusion has on a company’s bottom line and are beginning to fight for inclusion at all levels. Amazon has received criticism from stakeholders for lack of diversity and has since added Rosalind Brewer and Indra Nooyi, women of color, to their previously all white board of directors.