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  • Writer's pictureBen Kettle

🧐Why Do Corporate Diversity Efforts Feel So Hollow?🧐

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Because they are. But focusing on inclusion can fix them.

I have two goals for this week’s post:

  1. Convince you that diversity initiatives are doomed to fail if not coupled with an inclusive work environment.

  2. Review some of the benefits of an inclusive work environment.

Time to get started.

The Limits of Corporate Diversity Efforts

To start, let’s check in on an anonymous company’s internal Diversity Report to see how things are going.

This year, [company] saw incremental increases for women in leadership roles (director level or above) and underrepresented minorities (URMs) in U.S. technical and leadership roles, we also saw a decrease of women managers and women in technical roles, as well as a decrease of URMs and LGBTQ managers in the U.S.

Oh man, it sounds like they’ve had some ups and downs.¹

Well, what does the Wall Street Journal say about the demand for Chief Diversity Officers?

I guess it’s rough out there. But why?

Before we dive in here, I want to clarify that I believe representation is essential. It’s great whenever an organization focuses on making its workforce more diverse and focusing on representation is a significant first step!

But the hard truth is that diversity efforts won’t stick if a company doesn’t have an inclusive culture.

One way we know this is that the Harvard Business Review tells us so, like in the appropriately titled, “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion.”

But another, better way to understand the importance of inclusion is with a hypothetical.

Understanding inclusion with a hypothetical

Pretend that you walk in a room of strangers who look, act, think mostly like you and have similar interests. But what if this group of strangers talks down to you or interrupts you? or ignores you altogether? It may be subtle at first, but you get the feeling that you’re not, well, included. Would you want to stay in that environment very long?

Conversely, let’s say that you walk into a different room with a wide range of strangers who don’t look, act, think, or even remotely resemble you. But this group is inclusive - they actively listen, value your take, laugh at your (good) jokes, engage in respectful debate, etc. They may not be your best friends, but you feel included and valued for who you are (or “your authentic self” in the parlance of wellness coaches). Wouldn’t you rather be around and work with this second group of strangers?

My point here is that inclusion is a much more powerful force than it is given credit for. You can be a proud public advocate for more diversity in the workplace, but if you’re also a jerk who fosters a noninclusive, toxic work culture, then guess what? It’s not going to happen.

Inclusivity is foundational for many things, including diversity.

I&D pyramid

Benefits of an inclusive workplace

Credit to the big consulting firms, specifically McKinsey and Deloitte, for the work they’ve done on workplace inclusivity.²

Deloitte, in particular, has published significant research on the benefits of inclusion. Here are some of their findings:

None of these numbers feel that surprising, do they? If you’ve experienced an inclusive environment, it’s comically apparent to you that feeling included makes you more engaged.

So why wouldn’t you seek out those environments? Why would your employees be any different?

Final Thoughts

People need to feel included at work. If you create a more inclusive environment, you’ll benefit in many ways - including increasing the diversity of your team.

If you create an inclusive culture then any efforts you make to diversify your workforce are far more likely to stick. The bad news is that being inclusive is a lot harder than setting up a dashboard that counts the number of URMs in your organization.

But being more inclusive isn’t impossible. Next week I’ll focus on how you can make your first interaction with an employee, how you evaluate them for a role, a more inclusive experience.

Further Reading

If you’d like to go even deeper on inclusion, diversity, and performance I recommend “Inclusion, Diversity, and Market Growth” from The Center for Talent Innovation.


2 McKinsey goes so far as to rarely use the phrase “Diversity and Inclusion;” instead, they use “Inclusion and Diversity” - which makes sense because inclusivity has to come first.

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