What is Diversity and Inclusion and why is it so important in our professional lives?

This is a question that’s dominating the contemporary working landscape. Recognising that an equitable workforce can outshine its competitors is a relatively new concept. But employers are increasingly finding that respecting the unique needs, backgrounds and perspectives of their team members can earn them deeper commitment, higher collaboration and further productivity by enabling their employees to reach their full potential!

This was supported by internal investigations conducted by McKinsey & Company into the impact of diversity in 2015, 2018 and 2019, where they discovered that the greater the ethnic and gendered representation within a team, the higher the likelihood of outperformance.

To understand how we can impact change we need to understand what ‘diversity and inclusion’ actually means. It can be easy to place these words under the blanket definition of ‘equality.’ However, diversity refers to the variety of features and characteristics that make us all different. This could include our ethnicity, our gender, our sexuality, religion, a disability, our social background or even the colour of our skin.

However, inclusivity is the action of making all diverse groups feel valued and integrated within the social majority. An example of inclusivity would be making reasonable adjustments so that disabled individuals can access the same experience as others, such as accessible parking, lift access or reconfiguring the office layout to accommodate their needs. The most important thing to note about these descriptions, is that you cannot have one without the other. They are two interconnected concepts designed to develop not only our core mindsets but to influence our external actions in a positive way.

Why does diversity and inclusion matter in the workforce?

Diversity brings perspective. It also brings a medley of cultures, personalities and angles that add value to an organisation. And if those individuals feel included amongst the majority group, this is more likely to generate higher levels of collaboration and productivity.

Whilst the disparity between marginalised groups within the workplace is narrowing, accountability and equality within these professional spaces can be hard to implement. Often, this is because we do not always understand the difference between equality and equity…

‘Equality is enabling each individual or group to access the same resources or opportunities.’

‘Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.’

So, it comes down to the fine line between assimilation and celebration. Frequently, we hear the phrase ‘culture fit’ used to describe whether an individual will be able to settle within a team or workplace. But rather than requiring parties to conform with the views and behaviours of the pre-existing majority, organisations should strive to provide their diverse employees with the psychological safety tools to ‘add’ to the culture (i.e. being yourself makes you an asset!).

I thought I was inclusive?

Often, our microaggressions towards marginalised groups are unconscious and systemic, which make them harder to recognise. Therefore, we may be unknowingly contributing to bias within the workplace without intending to do so. This may be as subtle as assuming that someone’s physical ‘disability’ automatically correlates with an ‘inability’ to perform tasks. Those with disabilities are reported to be the recipient of unconscious bias more than any other category.

There are many different forms of bias:

The multinational company Deloitte conducted an internal research project in 2019 on the impact of bias within their workplace. They discovered that ‘39% said that they experience bias on a monthly basis. 83% categorise the bias(es) they have experienced in the workplace as subtle, indirect, or as microaggressions. Finally, they noted that 68% said that witnessing or experiencing bias had a negative impact on their productivity.’

How can you be more inclusive?

We’re beginning to see a transition change in social attitude towards gender in general, with more significance being placed on ‘pronouns’ in the workplace (I.e., the way we wish to define ourselves, usually based around our gendered identity). This can range from ‘he/ him’ to ‘they/them’ and lots in between! The language that we use to define ourselves is widening and allowing those who feel they do not identify with traditional terms to feel included, leading to the emergence of phrases such as ‘non-binary’ and ‘transgendered’. The language we use matters, so ensure that you are using the right phrases and ask if you are unsure!

Open conversations should be encouraged to promote education and acceptance amongst the entire workforce. Encouraging D&I training days or even just weekly conversations over coffee can give those who may feel excluded an opportunity to express their thoughts in a safe space. Allowing people to be open about their identity can help them to feel accepted, valued and heard.