Leaders Influence Diversity AND Inclusion

Key Takeaways:

  • Stories about workplace diversity and inclusion success often include aspects of both these concepts
  • Diversity refers to whether or not minorities are represented in an organization, and inclusion refers to if they feel like they belong
  • Leaders can be active drivers of both diversity and inclusion, rather than just passive players

Here on Lead Read Today, I often write about negative situations; sadly, discussing diversity and inclusion often entails difficult stories.  But for this month’s post, I wanted to focus on something positive.  Workplace diversity and inclusion is not always a bad thing – in many ways, it can be positive, and we should not minimize that!

Last month, the website “Human Resource Executive” wrote a story featuring the PGA (Professional Golfer’s Association) of America and what they have done to embed diversity and inclusion into their organization.  The article focuses on three key learnings the PGA made in order to address this important issue:

  1. Don’t Go it Alone: leaders looking to improve diversity and inclusion climate within their organization should be sure to work with others in order to get as many ideas and perspectives as possible.
  2. Partner with Individuals and Organizations that Believe in Your Mission: are there other groups that your organization could work with to mutually benefit each other?  Look for diversity-related groups that can aid your work.
  3. Include Diverse Perspectives at the Table: once you have a diverse workforce, your job is not done.  You need to hear what they have to say and give them space to give real input.  Representation by itself is not enough!

I love many things about this case study, but one thing in particular is that the implicit focus seems to be: how can the PGA improve inclusion?  Notice that the emphasis does not seem to be on diversity as much.

But what is the difference between diversity and inclusion?  Are they synonyms, used to reflect changes in language over time?  Or do the terms represent different concepts?

The answer is: yes, diversity and inclusion refer to two different things, each important – and it’s critical for leaders to understand the difference.  Generally, diversity refers to representation: are there people from diverse backgrounds in your organization?  Questions about diversity often connect to selection, hiring, and recruitment: what can we do to get more minorities in the organization?

On the other hand, inclusion typically refers to whether or not minorities feel included in the organization and are given a voice (see the PGA’s third point above about including diverse perspectives).  It isn’t to just hire minorities; once they are there, they need to be valued members of the organization!

How do leaders fit into this?  Claudia Buengeler and colleagues wrote an excellent discussion recently that highlights not just the difference between these two concepts but also how leadership can drive both[1].  In their paper, they argue that leaders often think of their role regarding diversity initiatives as relatively passive; essentially, leaders often see themselves as “enactors and communicators of HR policies and practices.” 

However, the authors of this paper suggest that leaders can be active – and often are actively influencing diversity and inclusion climate even if they don’t realize it.  As a leader, do you support the organization’s diversity initiatives?  Are you sending a signal to your team that you don’t really care about it and are just toeing the company line?  As I have written about before here on Lead Read Today, a leader can strongly impact their followers’ attitudes about diversity.  The authors of this paper suggest that leaders can also impact company diversity policies – which then have a direct effect on whether or not minority employees feel included.

As a leader, what do you focus on: diversity, inclusion, or both?  Legally, many organizations typically have to think about diversity.  But do you stop there?  Think about ways you as a leader can actively support and endorse company diversity policies (and climate in general).  Your endorsement will go a long way toward ensuring minority employees feel included and part of the organization.

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[1] Buengeler, C., Leroy, H., & De Stobbeleir, K. (2018). How leaders shape the impact of HR's diversity practices on employee inclusion. Human Resource Management Review, 28, 289–303.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.