Diversity and Inclusion: Let’s Face the Music and Dance

Diversity is a hot topic, yet for many firms progress against targets is slow. Could strengthening inclusion initiatives get firms further, faster?

We know that building workforces that represent the diversity of our clients or the populations they serve is just good business. Studies show that diverse organizations financially outperform their competitors, and they grow and innovate faster.

Much of the debate and attention about diversity today anchors to achieving gender parity and pay equality. But the reality is companies need to do much more in terms of embracing ethnicity, race, age, intellectual diversity and sexual orientation.

Setting more quotas, goals and legislation isn’t going to get us too much further forward from where we are today. But we can significantly reduce the barriers to diversity and inclusion by identifying our unconscious biases and welcoming differences in people.

Involvement matters

In her Ted Talk entitled, “How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them” well-known diversity consultant and author, Vernā Myers describes diversity as being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. Diversity is about representation, and inclusion is about involvement.

Those are two very different things, and it’s important that we help people and organizations understand that.

Trevor Philips, a British writer, broadcaster, former politician and chair of the equality and human rights commission, extended the metaphor further explaining that inclusion is about choosing the music that you want to dance, rather than listening to a “middle-aged white man playing U2 all night”. While Daniel Juday, Director of Ohio Diversity Council & Indiana Diversity Council, argues that inclusion is about being a member of the party-planning committee.

Through that lens, inclusion is not about settling for brief encounters like requesting a song or being asked to dance, it’s about redressing the balance of power. So, we need to put our focus on making everybody welcome at work.

Choose inclusion not exclusion

It can be simple things like the language, imagery and accessibility of your business that unintentionally exclude people. Studies show that using certain words and phrases in job adverts and role descriptions actively discourage workforce segments from applying. Similarly, the use of images and décor in the workplace make people feel they would not fit in to the organization. And if websites, physical buildings and even recruitment and development assessments are not accessible, not everyone will have a fair chance to succeed with the company.

You should also question and challenge the requirements you have, are they all really necessary or just habit? Do you have to source talent from the same pools and channels as you’ve always gone to? Does everybody have to fit into the same dress code, hours, working pattern or location? There may be a genuine need, but is it really a need or just what you are used to? Where it isn’t necessary, look at ways to challenge the status quo and explore how small changes will help you reach and attract more people.

Be curious, ask questions and seek out different perspectives. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

The final, and arguably one of the most important aspects of your organization to look at is bringing greater diversity into problem-solving and decision-making. Diverse groups of people with different skills, perspectives and experiences represented, find better solutions to problems and make better decisions for the business.

All of these things will make your environment more inclusive and welcoming for people coming into your firm, but if you are serious about making a difference, then you also need to get proactive within your own firm, living and breathing diversity and inclusion from the inside-out.

Mentoring schemes can strengthen connections across the company to ensure different peoples’ views and experiences are accessed and elevated. Use authentic role models to talk about their experiences with the firm. This will help others understand and appreciate their peers and colleagues while demonstrating how different people fit in and succeed in your organization.

And finally, not to forget the obvious, commitment from the very top – what the CEO wants, generally the CEO gets. As Myers said, embracing diversity and inclusion requires the organization’s ability to fully integrate its “understanding of and appreciation for the diverse cultures and backgrounds of its employees.” If your leadership team is not passionate about progressing diversity and inclusion, then it’s unlikely that anything will materially change, which is why we should all hold ourselves – and others – to account on the issue.

We all need to acknowledge and confront our biases. Be curious, ask questions and seek out different perspectives. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Interrupt and question both unconscious and systemic biases on behalf of others.


Author: Sarah McLellan