Are diversity stats papering over inclusion cracks?

Diverse teams are good for business – that much is abundantly clear. McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability. Pretty compelling. But herein lies the problem – focusing too much on diversity statistics might be a distracting measurement.

It’s a bit like going on a diet of unhealthy, low calorie snacks. On the outside, everything looks good but who knows what is happening on the inside? It is distracting, misleading even if it is the sole focus. And I will explain why.

Diversity alone isn’t enough!

So, your organisation has a team drawn from diverse backgrounds? That’s great, but it is just step one. It isn’t “mission accomplished” and it doesn’t mean that the organisation will automatically benefit from this diversity. Having an equal representation of women in senior positions or a multi-ethnic boardroom won’t necessarily mean that those women or people from ethnic minority backgrounds feel included, able to share their opinions and perform at their best.

The reason I raise this is because of a recent experience I had (not at ETS, I must add!). I observed a leader shut down an employee’s challenge about not feeling included through quoting the diversity statistics as being “representative”. By acting in this way, the leader in question was preventing themself from understanding the real issue at hand in their business – namely a lack of inclusiveness.

Connecting the dots between I&D

As I already touched on, having people from diverse backgrounds within your organisation is vital. But, without inclusion, it will likely have little impact on your employee experience or organisational performance. Inclusion and diversity must go hand in hand.

Inclusion is defined as the is the act of making a person or thing part of a group or collection. Now, for real inclusion, you don’t just make people a part of a group, you need to help them truly feel part of that group, to help them belong. Whether they feel a sense of belonging is their prerogative though, not anyone else’s.

The link between a diverse organisation and high performance is simply employees feeling included. This is because, if an individual feels included, they are more likely to speak up and contribute in a way that provides the following:

  • Better representation of and relation to society – by having this representation, an organisation is more likely to understand and meet the needs of your customers and employees
  • Creativity and challenge – having diversity of thought from different people means that organisations are more likely to think about new ventures and problems from different angles.

Building an inclusive culture

So how do you go about creating a diverse workforce and supporting them to feel included? I should point out that there are no shortcuts or hacks here. But these are a few practical ideas to consider:

  1. Understand by asking – use listening tools to see if people feel includedand why/why not. The nature of the topic means that it is unlikely that people will be completely open at first so trust in the process as it will need to be built up over time.
  2. Encourage third party challenge – in my experience, it is easier for someone other than the individual to speak out about inclusion issues. If you receive third party challenge (like in my example earlier), encourage it and welcome it.
  3. Challenge yourself – it is likely that it will be difficult for you to see the point of view of someone else in your organisation who may be very different from you. Consider having an outside coach or facilitator to challenge that thinking.
  4. Plan solutions – use feedback and specialist support to put together a plan to support the organisation and people within it to be and feel included. This is part of a process and it won’t end with a quick bit of training. But acknowledging and really listening can go a long way to helping people to feel included, and not just a statistic.
  5. Repeat – not to labour the point but inclusion is an on-going journey and it doesn’t just happen overnight. As new people join, so your culture changes again and it is always something that you need to be tuned in to, so that you may adapt to meet the inclusion needs of those in your organisation.

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