A diverse workplace isn’t necessarily an inclusive one

As our workplaces continue to grow increasingly diverse and the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion becomes undeniable, organizations across industries are understanding the importance of cultivating an inclusive workplace in which all employees feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued.

Diversity reporting has become a normative practice in organizations across many industries. However, these reports say little about an organization’s inclusiveness, because a diverse workplace isn’t necessarily an inclusive one.

While inclusion is a key ingredient to a successful business, it is not an automatic result of a diverse workforce. Verna Myers, Netflix’s vice president of inclusion strategy, helped drive this point home when she famously stated that “diversity is being invited to the party (and) inclusion is being asked to dance.”

This quote was instrumental in sparking the national conversation about inclusion in the workplace, but I think it’s time that we begin to think about inclusion beyond just asking someone to dance. Because when the song that you are dancing to is over, typically that means that dance is over, too.

If our inclusion efforts stop at asking someone to dance, then we will fall short at creating an inclusive environment in which all employees, regardless of their social and cultural identities, feel a sense of belonging and feel valued enough to fully participate.

I agree with Myers that diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is not just being asked to dance—it is being asked to help choreograph that dance. When we invite our historically under-represented employees to help choreograph the dance of our organizations, we provide them with an opportunity to help contribute to the success of our businesses.

Inviting talented employees of diverse identities to contribute their ideas and insights helps pave a path for them to secure a seat at the decision-making table and works to create validation and recognition for employees who often go unrecognized.

When employees don’t feel recognized or included, it diminishes their sense of belonging to the organization and discourages them from showing up to work as their true, authentic selves. This negatively impacts their performance and commitment to an organization, and oftentimes leads to the revolving door, which comes with not only a cost to company morale but also a hefty monetary cost to the organization.

Empowering others with the opportunity to help choreograph the organizational design is an intentional act of inclusion that can result in a renewed sense of commitment and belonging to the organization, working to ensure the retention of people of color, women, LGBTQ+ and other minoritized employees whom we value and worked hard to recruit.

Intentional inclusivity is a key to the success of our diverse workplaces. Business leaders who aspire to be inclusive should be intentional about inviting their historically underrepresented employees to contribute insights and experiences. An invitation to help choreograph the “dance” of our businesses is not only an act of empowerment, but it can also help ensure that diversity, equity and inclusion is being deliberately designed into the DNA of our organizations.

Cindu Thomas-George is the founder and principal trainer of Shakti Diversity & Equity Training based in Chicago.

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