Diversity and inclusion

The subject of diversity and inclusion now touches every part of our daily lives – at home, at work, socially and professionally. Understanding what it is and why it’s so important in the workplace is key to helping organisations, employees and teams to thrive. With all of the terms, benefits and challenges to understand, it can be quite an overwhelming concept, so read on for a breakdown of this essential and complex topic.

What is diversity and inclusion? 
What is the difference between diversity and inclusion?

  • Diversity is a difference in any factor that can be used to differentiate one individual or group from another. It is not limited to gender and race. Diversity also relates to factors such as: age, sexual orientation, religion, a different way of thinking from others (cognitive diversity), national origin, socioeconomic status, different life experiences, etc. Diversity in groups brings different perspectives, experiences and ideas.

  • Inclusion is a sense of belonging. High levels of inclusion within an organisation refer to diverse individuals feeling socially accepted, valued, and fairly and equally treated. Inclusion is about active involvement. It is the feeling that you are respected, heard and belong.  This is reinforced by creating a place where everyone can thrive and having this reflected in the policies.




  • Diversity (i.e. an organisation that reflects a broad range of perspectives, cultures, ethnicities and people) and inclusion (i.e. an organisation with employees that embraces differences and work effectively with each other) are both essential. Diversity doesn’t work without inclusion, and vice versa.  Ultimately, they are complimentary elements that together make an organisation more effective.


Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.

Vernā Myers

What is equity and what is equality? What is the difference between equity and equality?

Equity involves distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients, e.g. making a reasonable accommodation, such as providing extra reading time for someone who has dyslexia.

Whereas equality is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities.  Equality has to do with giving everyone the exact same resources.

You can see that equality will not lead to equity, and equality does not level the playing field.

Treat people the way they want to be treated.  See people as individuals.  There’s nothing to be gained by feeling guilty or defensive about the privileges you may have, but rather aim to be an ally to those who have not experienced the same.

What are the benefits of diversity and inclusion and why is it important in the workplace?

The benefits of diversity and inclusion in organisations are now well researched and documented.  The research shows that when an organisation is more inclusive, it leads to greater collaboration, creativity, engagement, profitability, performance and an improved corporate reputation.  Those organisations that are less diverse and inclusive have lower staff engagement and higher staff attrition.  Many areas are experiencing skills shortages, so organisations that don’t attract and recruit candidates from the whole talent pool will find it difficult to remain competitive and successful in the market.  If organisations attract diverse talent but have not established an inclusive environment, they’re likely to see that talent leave and the costs that result.


How do you start and implement a diversity & inclusion strategy?


The approach to implement diversity and inclusion can vary organisation to organisation, but a good place to start is with the leadership team.  Understand the motivation behind why the organisation wants to work on diversity and inclusion.  Determine the leadership team’s willingness to devote time, money and effort to the changes.  A diversity and inclusion strategy is unlikely to be successful without active senior leadership participation.

Examining data is also important.  Are diversity and inclusion questions included in the employee engagement data?  Have any problems been identified in certain countries or departments?  Does the employee data for each location match the demographic data for that location?  Can you see any problems in certain countries or departments?  Does your employee data for each location match the demographic data for that location?  Gathering and analysing all the data will help to pinpoint troublesome areas.

Listening to employees is another critical step.  Set up listening sessions to learn how employees from different locations and/or departments experience the organisations, and find out if they feel valued, included and respected.  Would they find employee networks or resource groups useful?

Review processes and policies to determine in which employee life cycles issues may exist.  This could include asking recruiters for diverse candidate lists, checking for adverse impact in the assessment process, properly training interviewers, identifying who gets promoted and how quickly, measuring the access to flexible working, confirming confidential ways to report bullying and harassment, etc.

What initiatives help to enforce diversity and inclusion?

The question of how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a common one.  Organisations can enforce diversity and inclusion by building an inclusive culture to ensure that new hires feel respected and valued and want to stay.  Senior leaders need to behave as role models and allies for individuals to believe an organisation is serious about diversity and inclusion.  This can be done by investing in expertise, such as hiring someone to lead diversity initiatives throughout the organisation.  It’s also good to provide ways and encourage employees to give feedback and ideas for how an organisation can be more inclusive.  Organisations should use their own data to inform their priorities and changes.  Diversity and inclusion training, while important, should only be one part of a larger strategy.


Who should lead the diversity and inclusion strategy and implementation?

Diversity and inclusion strategies may be led by the business, HR, or ideally, a combination of the two.

Senior-level buy-in and active participation is essential to success.  Leaders have the power, influence, budget and decision-making authority to drive diversity and inclusion programmes forward.  Of course, they cannot do it all, but they do help to role model and signal that the organisation is serious about diversity and inclusion.  In reality, a lot of ideas and actions may be grassroots initiatives within those organisations that enable employee resource groups/networks to share ideas for improvements.  The ideal scenario is that it is a collaborative effort throughout the organisation, with allies actively working with the leaders, HR and employee networks to bring about positive changes.


When can training in diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias fail to work?

Unconscious bias training is a popular diversity and inclusion training intervention.  Typically, unconscious bias training (UBT) aims to increase awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on people who belong to groups denoted as having ‘protected characteristics’ (this varies country to country) such as race, sex, disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, veteran status, pregnancy and maternity.

Much of the diversity and inclusion training involves putting large number of employees through online learning or group lectures.  While this can help employees to raise their awareness, it rarely provides behavioural guidance for how to manage their biases.  Smaller groups discussions, along with one-on-one conversations and feedback, are far more effective at covering tangible actions such as using Observe, Record, Classify, Evaluate (ORCE) during recruitment.  Including bias reduction strategies, such as promoting counter-stereotypical examples to challenge implicit stereotypes, is important.

How can organisations implement diversity & inclusion on a budget?

Diversity and inclusion can be implemented by using the internal knowledge and passion that an organisation possesses. Setting up staff networks with senior sponsors can help to provide support and identify problem areas and solutions. Employees are the experts, and they know where they do and do not feel included in the organisation. By asking and then listening to their employees, organisations will be equipped to take tangible actions.

What is adverse impact?

In the context of employment, adverse impact refers to employment practices that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on a protected group. Specifically, it refers to a situation where two different groups of candidates (i.e. groups of contrasting gender, age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status) score differently on an assessment to the extent that different hiring rates result (Hough, Oswald & Ployhart, 2001).

How do diversity and inclusion relate to recruitment and assessment processes?

The first step is to gather data, keeping in mind that employment laws vary for each country in which an organisation operates. Gather the demographic data at every stage of the recruitment and assessment process, e.g. who is passing/failing each stage, by:

  • Gender (including opportunity for those who do not identify as a set-gender to explain their self-identity)
  • Age
  • Disability and any required reasonable adjustments
  • Race (includes ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality)
  • Marital status
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Religion or belief (includes non-belief)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Veteran status

This data enables organisations to conduct adverse impact analyses to see if any assessments are unintentionally unfairly discriminating. If that is occurring, organisations can then work with their assessment provider to make changes and improvements to prevent future adverse impact. Ideally, interviewer and assessor training would be mandated for all employees involved in recruitment and assessments. This training should cover behavioural assessment best practices such as ORCE and should openly discuss biases, stereotypes and how to manage them. There are additional actions that can be taken, but these are a good place to start.


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