Inclusive and diverse work environments positively impact the bottom line for business. Less clear is how to bring about the cultural and behavioral changes needed in the workplace for the benefits of diversity to emerge. Part of the problem is that we lump diversity and inclusion together as if they were one thing, whereas we should be thinking about them as separate concepts and work streams. While forward progress is needed on both diversity and inclusion initiatives, organizational learning and development is critical to the development of the inclusive work cultures needed to ensure diversity initiatives thrive.
Diversity Is Good for Business
The business results are in and they’re conclusive: diversity in the workplace leads to superior financial results. According to a 2017 McKinsey study, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. The results are even more pronounced for ethnic and cultural diversity: companies with ethnically diverse management are 33% more likely to outperform. Where does this boost in performance come from? The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) has found that companies with 2D diversity—including ‘inherent’ diversity categories of gender, race, socio-economic background, etc. as well as ‘acquired’ diversity characteristics such as cultural fluency, generational savvy, technological literacy, and military experience—are 75% more likely to see ideas turn into products.
Companies have responded to the business imperative as well as to recent social and cultural pressures by committing to diverse hiring policies. Often overlooked, however, is that the benefits of diversity only emerge in inclusive work environments. In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid write: “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.” At many companies, however, inclusion remains elusive. According to a study by BCG, diverse employees feel far less able than employees of majority groups to share their perspectives at work. Those who do share their views often feel their voices have not been heard.
Inclusion on the Dance Floor
Noted diversity advocate, Vernā Myers, expresses the difference between diversity and inclusion this way:
At work, we all want to dance. The BCG study cited earlier found that 74 percent of white men, the dominant group in business, agree with the statement “My perspectives at work matter and are listened to.” That percentage drops substantially for diverse workers. Individuals with one dimension of diversity (e.g. white females, racially diverse males, or veterans) are 6 percent less likely to agree with the statement. And things go downhill from there. If you have three dimensions of diversity (e.g. a woman of color with a disability), you are a full 15% less likely to agree with the statement.
The result is that if inclusion is not present, diversity efforts are doomed. Diverse employees are not listened to, are not promoted, and never really get into the leadership positions where they can actively shape a company’s culture. There are no role models and no opportunities for networking and mentoring. Ultimately, the business itself suffers from the lack of effective problem solving and innovation that diverse workplace cultures bring. To avoid this downward spiral and to meet the social and business goals of diverse workplaces, companies need to pay equal, if not greater, attention to fostering inclusion at work.
Diversity and Inclusion Are Different Things
To move the conversation about diversity and inclusion in the workplace forward, we can step back and recognize that the two are very different things. Let’s define the terms and explore the nuances inherent in each of them. Gallup defines diversity as follows:
Diversity represents the full spectrum of human demographic differences — race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status or physical disability. A lot of companies consider lifestyles, personality characteristics, perspectives, opinions, family composition, education level or tenure elements of diversity, too.
This definition brings together the ‘inherent’ and ‘acquired’ diversity characteristics described by CTI. A company wishing to realize the business and social benefits of diversity should be expected to adopt policies and practices that produce diverse workforces. Some of these policies are purely compliance-driven. It is generally illegal to discriminate against differences in many workplace situations—for example, discrimination on the basis of gender, age, religion, veteran status, or disability.
Beyond the letter of the law, companies make business- and value-driven decisions to increase their workforce diversity. It is better for business to have a diverse set of people and perspectives when tackling complex problems. How much better? Consider this shocking, though maybe not surprising, stat from CTI: “when teams have one or more members who represent the gender, ethnicity, culture, generation, or sexual orientation of the team’s target end-user, the entire team is far more likely (as much as 158% more likely) to understand that target, increasing their likelihood of innovating effectively for that end user.”
Inclusion is different because it describes the social and cultural milieu where diversity plays out. According to Gallup:
Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.
In other words, inclusion describes a set of attitudes, practices, and behaviors that occur in the workplace. While compliance with policies might form part of an inclusion strategy, the concept of inclusion itself is much more intimately connected with the mission and values of an organization. Organizations that are concerned with inclusion are fundamentally committed to changing culture and organizational character.
Learning to Move Beyond Compliance
What’s required to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce is not simply a matter of tweaking hiring policies and benefits, it’s a wholesale change in culture to support a set of organizational values that center around inclusion. It represents a change in strategy, not tactics. Increasingly, however, companies are stepping forward with business visions that address issues of social and corporate responsibility and sustainable growth. In its August 2019 “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” the U.S. Business roundtable specifically commits to “foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”
Leadership on issues of inclusion and diversity is critical in setting the direction for companies that aim to do good for all their stakeholders. The question remains, however, how to shift the aggregated attitudes and behaviors of thousands of workers quickly and at scale. Traditional check-the-box compliance training is unlikely to work. In-person training can be more effective but is difficult to scale rapidly, especially if the point is to get diverse viewpoints into the same room at the same time and generate a conversation that can change minds and behaviors. An alternative approach is to take advantage of the scale of cloud-based experiential learning platforms to bring diverse, distributed workforces together to engage in conversation and reflection to better align workplace attitudes and behaviors to corporate values and goals. Online learning platforms, like NovoEd, learners can connect with each other and with company leaders to discuss, reflect, and apply their learning and insights to initiatives of strategic importance to their organizations.
One organization leveraging the power of collaborative digital learning to advance the cause of inclusion is global construction materials giant, CEMEX. Committed to a 50:50 entry-level gender hiring balance by 2030 and to a global, values-based “One CEMEX” culture, the company is making changes now to ensure that the company has an inclusive working culture. These changes include addressing issues of unconscious bias at CEMEX through collaborative learning experiences on the NovoEd platform. This learning brings people together from all divisions and geographies in the CEMEX organization. Discussions are honest and not always comfortable, but this is where the real learning and culture shifts happen.
Launching Diversity Initiatives Digitally: Spotlight on CEMEX You can hear more about the CEMEX approach to learning for diversity and inclusion in a presentation delivered by Abraham González Báez, Senior Advisor at CEMEX University. Watch On-Demand
Before 2020, organizations didn’t have to give much thought to the nature of their sales-training programs. But suddenly, face-to-face training, events and workshops came to a halt in the wake of the pandemic.