After all the progress made from the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements this year, inclusion and diversity should no longer be deemed as “nice to have” in the corporate world. They should be essential.

Unfortunately, still not all companies are thinking about this. but there are several reasons why inclusivity and diversity are key to a company’s cultural, financial, and social success.

Before we dive in, it’s necessary to understand that diversity and inclusion are interrelated but not synonymous. In this Gallup article, Ella Washington and Camille Patrick make an excellent distinction between the two. They characterize diversity as “the full spectrum of human demographic differences—race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status or physical disability” as well as differences in “lifestyles, personality characteristics, perspectives, opinions, family composition, education level or tenure elements”.

This differs from how they describe inclusion as a sense of belonging that can be “assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization”.

What an Inclusive AND Diverse Organization Looks Like

It’s possible for a company to be inclusive but not diverse and vice versa, but an organization must be both diverse and inclusive to reach optimal performance. Let’s see what this kind of workplace looks like in practice:

  • Having a diverse roster of leaders and promotion policy that is not biased against oppressed groups, including women, BIPOC, POC, members of the LGBTQ+ community, etc
  • Providing diversity training for leaders and middle managers
  • Hiring for diversity in demographic, thought, and experience
  • Ensuring every employee has equal access to opportunities and resources
  • Providing an environment where people feel safe to voice their opinions and be heard
  • Keeping everyone, including leaders, accountable to their actions without blame
  • Valuing collaboration over competition
  • Creating a culture of belonging, empowerment, and continuous growth

In 2017, Bersin by Deloitte published research that revealed only an astonishing 12 percent of organizations around the world have achieved an inclusive and diverse culture. Similarly, research conducted by Accenture reveals an ongoing perception gap between employees versus leaders on inclusivity and equality in the workplace. This research also uncovers an overall low prioritization of culture and diversity compared to targets like financial performance and brand reputation—which is unsurprising if you’ve been paying attention to the conversations happening online.

Benefits of Being Aligned with Diversity and Inclusion

However, it seems that leaders’ priorities are misplaced. The Deloitte study found that the organizations in the aforementioned 12 percent are roughly “six times more likely to be innovative, six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets”. This is all because their leaders were intentional about embedding inclusive practices in their overall strategy and prioritizing people over profit. The research supports an obvious truth: people are more engaged and perform better at work when they feel like they’re valued.

Inclusive and diverse organizations are “six times more likely to be innovative, six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets”

From these research findings, the ongoing anti-racism protests, and real-life accounts of people who’ve suffered discrimination in the workplace, it’s clear that the corporate business world needs to make some deep, structural changes. It’s also clear from some people’s online push-back that this change will be messy, uncomfortable, and difficult. So, where to begin?

“Organizations should talk about diversity and inclusion as a critical component of the organization’s business strategy through both formal communications and reporting relationships,” says the Deloitte research. Some companies are already on track with this first step, as evident in the public commitments to fight racism that have been made by some companies.

Unsurprisingly, the work doesn’t stop at talking; the next step is putting words into action, and everyone, from on-the-ground employees to recruiters to CEOs, has a part to play. In addition to acting on their promises to be more inclusive and diverse, companies must hold themselves accountable to delivering them (or risk being held accountable by the public and damaging their brand reputation in the process).

Getting Up to Speed in 2020

By this time in 2020, an inclusive and diverse culture should be a priority in companies and not merely a “nice-to-have”. No one should have less access to opportunities or be made to feel “less-than” because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their cultural background, or any other external characteristics they have no control over.

Our differences are meant to be celebrated, because when we come together as a team, it is precisely these differences that make us more creative, more innovative, and more open to learning. And we all know that learning is the way to become better–as individuals, as businesses, and as a society.