Inclusion - the new Diversity?

16 May 2017 By Will Brodie

Image credit:
Image credit:

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” writes cultural innovator and activist Verna Myers.

Diversity is having a mix of people from varied backgrounds; inclusion is harnessing that mix.

Most leaders recognise diversity as a necessity for their organisations, but many struggle to achieve inclusion. Many diversity programs, often well-meaning, are too peripheral. They lack strategy, follow-up and depth. They aim to tick a box, or impress consumers and peers, rather than grapple with difference.

“We need to stop solving and looking for recognition and start thinking about and earning respect from the actual people in our workplaces and marketplaces – to give them influence over the growth of the company,” writes Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis.

Llopis challenges leaders to consider diversity and inclusion as an “opportunity” not a “problem”.

“Diversity and inclusion must be about understanding your identity and the identities of all people. Only then can we be courageous enough to steer away from like-mindedness through assimilating people’s differences (melting pot) and towards like-mindedness through honouring those differences (mosaic).”

One model which addresses inclusion is that of the ‘Authentic Leader’. Deloitte partner Juliet Bourke says research into the impact of such leaders “found a strong connection between authentic leadership and individual feelings of inclusion.”

“In essence, employees who feel included are more likely to experience greater self-worth as organisational members… and are more likely to help their co-workers manage and prevent problems, demonstrate initiative, show up on time, overlook inconveniences and care about their organisation’s performance...”

Authentic leadership emphasises “self-awareness, perspective-taking, moral integrity and open, as well as genuine, communication.”

The Authentic Leadership Institute states: To lead effectively, an individual must first find… the clear and unique expression of their leadership that convinces others to trust and follow them.”

It sounds great, as do many trends in leadership since the financial crisis undermined confidence in the ‘hero leader’.

But Dr Helena Liu, lecturer in Organisation Studies at Swinburne Business School, offers a word of caution.

“It’s seen by some leaders as meaning you have all the answers you need within you, and that’s tempting because it celebrates the self and is simplistic,” she says.

A “superficial” version of Authentic Leadership can feed into “individualism and narcissism”, Liu warns.

She says the original concept of authenticity was about moral commitment as much as being true to oneself.

No simple formula is a solution to the complexities of leadership. But the ideal of the Authentic Leadership model is worth considering.

The Diversity Council of Australia says an inclusive leader is curious about new and different perspectives; is responsive to a diversity of people and perspectives; creates teams in which a diversity of people feel are valued and respected; and challenges accepted practices.

And here are the benefits of inclusion, in case anyone needs reminding:

  • Improved profit and performance
  • Higher levels of innovation
  • Greater team engagement
  • Improved employee well-being
  • Improved conflict resolution
  • Fewer legal issues
  • Reduced employee turnover