The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines diversity as: “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” Closely related is the term inclusion, defined as, “variety, especially: the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”
This is a good thing, right? Of course it is. Few, if any, people would argue with that. Wanda Thibodeaux, a contributor to eHow, puts it like this: “…Employers who strive for a diverse, inclusive workplace fare better than those who do not. Subsequently, diversity and inclusiveness in business is a major human resources topic.”
This is a true statement, no doubt. But is there a difference between an organizational policy and what is actually put into practice in the workplace? It would appear so.
“Typically when we talk about diversity and inclusion, the expectation is to check off a box so we have by-the-numbers diverse organizations and can tell people we have just that,” states Eric Termuende in his online article, “Why We Need to Talk About Diversity and Inclusion in a New Way.” “We tell the public that we value diversity and have people of varying backgrounds and ethnicities.”
This means that a workplace can have employees of different races, ethnicities, or a certain disability, but these individuals may not necessarily feel like they belong. Put another way, we can have diversity in a workplace, but not necessarily inclusion, which means such environments may – or may not – be great places to work.
People want to belong, to be part of a work family. Working next to a colleague of a different race or culture might be a good thing, but these individuals might not have any more than stuffy, impersonal relationships with each other. Case in point, a large publishing company I used to work at. The firm employed more than 400 people, but its location in a small town made it tough for HR to hire people of various races and ethnic backgrounds.
Even when they did, these persons typically didn’t work there long. It might have made HR feel good to ‘check off’ a certain race or culture on a box in a hiring application, but these folks sure didn’t fit in very well.
Even when they did, these persons typically didn’t work there long. It might have made HR feel good to “check off” a certain race or culture on a box in a hiring application, but these folks sure didn’t fit in very well. Bear in mind they weren’t discriminated against, just that living in a town with precious few non-Whites made it hard to relate to these people’s backgrounds. These individuals did not experience the same feeling of belonging that most people there did.
“Diversity” and “inclusion” goes beyond one’s gender or the color of one’s skin. It’s a more nebulous concept than that. For one thing, I think these ideas need to start with the organization’s leaders – bosses who are fair, nonjudgmental, not prejudiced, the type who practice what they preach. With leadership showing the way, true belonging can occur on all levels when values and beliefs are shared, and everyone feels accepted and welcomed.
This isn’t an easy process to be sure, but it’s been my experience that a diverse, inclusive company that goes beyond words and tolerance, and moves into action and genuine feelings of acceptance, is worth the time and effort. The company I worked at I mentioned earlier may not have been big on diversity, but it sure was WELCOMING and ACCEPTING.