After catching up with a former client on the phone, I found myself recalling a powerful conversation I had after one of my keynotes a few years ago. A gentleman approached me proudly stating how his leaders had “passed their cultural training, and now they are suited to deal with diverse populations.” I remember him smiling, expecting me to praise his forward thinking on the issue. He was sadly mistaken. I told him I admired the intention but not the result: He wasn’t bringing people together; he was further siloing them. By focusing on diversity and not inclusion, he was promoting disconnection, marginalization, and even victimization.
The gentleman looked confused, so I explained that when we put words like Hispanic, African American, and Asian Pacific-Islanders in front of people, we think more about the words and less about the people. These words close our minds to embracing how people communicate, think, and add-value differently. So we don’t include them – we push them, their unique differences, and the innovation mentality they bring even further to the margins of the company.
They get lost as a cost-center, rather than an influencer to drive growth.
“But our chief diversity officer led the training,” he protested.
“Exactly,” I said. “If that work falls on a single marginalized chief diversity officer, that practically gives most companies license to ignore the marginalized diversity trainings that officer leads, corporate social responsibility programs, and employee resource groups. All of those things have good intentions but are seen at your company and many others as cost centers linked to compliance and political correctness rather than profit centers to drive influence in the workplace and growth in the marketplace.”
So why did I recall this conversation? My former client was applying for a job as a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.
Here we go again.
Why does the term diversity still need to exist in a title when you’re solving for inclusion? Does the addition of the word inclusion mean companies think diversity solves for inclusion? Or that if you add inclusion, you are therefore inclusive and not just diverse? Are we sending the wrong message?
Yes, we are. Focusing on diversity does not solve for inclusion. Focusing on diversity:
The irresponsible use of the word “diversity” by businesses over the years has converted the original intentions into politically charged agendas that make people feel uncomfortable and drives them into silos. As organizations attempt to recreate growth, their focus should be on solving for inclusion in order to find new ways to maximize the full potential and contributions of all individuals (both diverse and non-diverse). The workplace and marketplace are changing too fast for leaders to pretend they have all the answers. They need to find like-mindedness in differences not assimilate those differences or force them to the margins. Which brings us to the next point.
Promotes a compliance mindset
A compliance mindset happens when organizations place an emphasis on ensuring that diversity initiatives are in place to celebrate employee differences. While there is certainly a place and can be a space to do this, those places and spaces do not solve for inclusion. They solve for embracing differences but not for amplifying influence. All individuals want to feel valued and heard But what individuals want more than anything else is to know that they work for an organization that knows how to leverage individual differences in ways that allows the individual to influence more and seize opportunities previously unseen. But while (diversity and) inclusion is housed in human resources, this will never happen. It belongs in corporate strategy where growth lies, not the human resources departments that have historically focused on compliance.
Makes people feel judged not valued
People want to be part of an organization that encourages them to be themselves and allows them to challenge the status quo. Leaders and employees are tired of being told to what to do inside the box they are given. Diversity doesn’t solve for this; inclusion does. As diversity continues to be the corporate narrative, and platforms such as CEO Action and others attempt to strengthen that narrative, diversity initiatives will never solve for inclusion and individuality. The will never solve for growth. They will solve for reputation management, contributing to the compliance mindset and fostering the silos. They will solve for divisiveness and only add to the confusion around how all of this “diversity work” contributes to driving revenue. In fact, my organization has developed an assessment tool that can measure an organization’s readiness to lead inclusion as a growth strategy.
If individuality is going to continue to shape present and future business models and if inclusion is the platform for leveraging the collective intellectual capital in all people to drive business growth, why do we allow diversity to stand in the way? When we do, it feeds the old narrative that continues to be repackaged in other forms that promote disconnection, marginalization, and even victimization.
Yes, of course, we all understand (perhaps more than ever) that people in the US come from diverse backgrounds. But are these people defined by their diversity? Is the affinity to diversity – the business defining the individual or the individual defining the business?
It’s the business (company) defining the individual. Those diversity trainings, corporate social responsibility programs, and employee resource groups? They are seemingly doing the right thing without much thought about what they are solving for, let alone who they are for, why we are doing it, or if what we are doing is actually right for the people they are supposedly serving – or anyone else really.
Do people need a label or a reason to justify their existence? Do you need to say diversity for people to buy in to what you are selling? Will an employee resource group make people feel more included? Diversity as a platform doesn’t empower different individuals, give them influence, make them feel valued, and strive to find like-mindedness in our differences – inclusion does. Being labeled as “diverse” makes people feel judged.
In other words, by focusing in the words, we ignore the people. Diversity reaffirms a culture of marginalization, victimization, and compliance. This is especially true if the chief diversity and inclusion officer is part of human resources.
Inclusion should be in corporate strategy focused on driving growth. That’s how we create inclusive cultures to anticipate change, innovate, and grow. Which is exactly what America needs. Organizations are focusing now on recreating growth and must have a mindset of continuous renewal and reinvention to survive. When you consider that businesses were focused on managing growth at the start of the century and now have to recreate growth, they must become more employee-centric and focus on individuality and inclusion.