Diversity and Inclusion

by | Blog, General Business

I know I’m a bit late in wishing you all a Happy New Year but who amongst us hasn’t been late a time or two?

If you have been reading these newsletters for any length of time you know that sustainable growth is one of my passions and linked to that is developing a high performing culture. You can’t effectively grow if your team isn’t aligned in their engagement.

My guest, Sally Helgesen, makes the point that culture is really about behaviors within the organization. I go on to say, that if your intentional about developing the culture it’s about how aligned your deeds are with your words.

Sally introduces an important line of thinking when she discusses how Diversity and Inclusion “yoked together” within an intentional culture can be both clarifying and directional.

I hope you enjoy the read. Leave comments and let me know if I should share more on this topic.

Stay strong,

John P. Foster
Managing Member

Diversity and Inclusion
Forever Yoked?
by Sally Helgesen

For over 20 years, organizations have been exalting inclusion in mission statements and rolling out inclusion initiatives— yet they’ve rarely put the focus on how we behave.

Behaviors determine culture because culture lives in the details of how we do things.

Still, many companies imagine that simply using the right words will brand them as an inclusive place to work— freeing them having to do the heavy lifting of actually practicing inclusion.

Lately I’ve observed a related issue rooted in this inattention to the outsized role behavior plays in building organizational culture: companies routinely conflate inclusion with diversity. But before exploring why these two distinct concepts are routinely commingled, some background:

In 1995 I wrote Building A Web of Inclusion, the first book to actually use the word inclusion in a business context.

I settled upon the image of a web because, at the time, networked architectures were reconfiguring work as we now know it. Webs are by definition non- hierarchical but also organic and fluid— far more inclusive and dynamic than ‘flat’ organizations (the buzzword at the time).

More importantly, a web is not only a structure; it is a way of operating. A defining feature of webs is that they depend upon and reward the practice of inclusive behaviors and habits.

The good news is, the notion of inclusion has now largely been incorporated by most organizations. Nearly thirty years after publication of Building a Web of Inclusion, I still get invited to speak on the subject. The sponsoring initiatives are almost always part of a diversity and inclusion effort.

I had no thought of inclusion being yoked to diversity when Building a Web of Inclusion was published, of course. But in the decades since, the words diversity and inclusion have become reflexively joined, so we now routinely speak of D&I– more recently inserting Equity to create DEI.

On the one hand, the pairing of D&I makes sense, given that individuals who have been underrepresented are more likely to feel excluded and to struggle to attract support and recognition. D&I initiatives rightly seek to rectify this situation.

On the other hand, instead of permeating organizational culture and helping to effect profound and lasting change, inclusion has gotten siloed.

It is viewed primarily as a tool for engaging women and others outside the dominant leadership group, rather than as a skill that needs to be practiced by all leaders and at every level.

The forced linking of these two concepts also betrays how they are often misunderstood.

For example, I frequently hear leaders describe diversity as their “goal.” But this makes little sense. Diversity is not an aspiration, it is reality. It defines the nature of the talent pool from which organizations large and small must draw.

Inclusion, by contrast, is the only sustainably useful method for leading people who have historically stood outside the mainstream.

So, whereas diversity describes the nature of the situation, inclusion describes the means by which the situation can most effectively be managed and led.

This distinction is an important one if we want to leverage each concept to its full extent and make inclusion a daily workplace practice through specific behaviors.

I’ll be exploring more about how behaviors— what we do— determine workplace culture next week.

Written By: John Foster

John Foster has 30 plus years of distinguished leadership and management experience with multiple companies at various stages of development across several fast-paced industries.
Learn more at pathfindergroupus.com