The Missing Link Between Inclusion and Diversity

It has long been established that inclusion is key to developing diversity at the workplace. Research has shown that diversity drives innovation and value growth. In 2019 McKinsey released a report that showed that diversity at the top management level created outstanding performances. Diverse organisations have high scores on feelings of equality, openness and belonging. Researchers such as Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm have shown how diversity leads to increased empathy and is crucial for creating transformative results.

What role, then, does inclusion play in creating a diverse organisation? Inclusion is how we welcome diverse talent by recruiting new members that differ from ourselves – whether that be in their sexuality, gender, ethnic background, age, or something else. The term “inclusion” can have different meanings. Executive coach, Keith Ferrazzi, has defined inclusion as the process of getting diverse opinions into the decision-making. Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusion as “the act of including someone or something as part of a group” and a quick Google search will tell you that inclusion is “the practise or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized”.

Interestingly, McKinsey’s report shows that people respond more positively to diversity than to inclusion. It appears that we like the result but not the process. And there might be a good reason for that. Firstly, we as human beings feel more comfortable around those with whom we are alike. It is basic human psychology – it simply feels safe because it is familiar. However, there is another reason – an anthropological one – why inclusion as a project could be doomed before it ever entered the agenda.

We have identified a missing link between inclusion and diversity. The missing link is uncovered when we dive into the dynamics that play into the inclusive process. Diversity works wonders when we gain new perspectives, are ready to move in new directions, co-create new visions and strive for exponential thinking. This is achieved when we collaborate in new ways.


However, we often include others by letting them into an existing group without truly changing the power dynamics – it is the existing group that will invite a few new people to the table where decisions are made.

The newcomers are expected to take action and think much like the people already sitting at this table; they must adapt and integrate. In other words, we may invite others in by opening the door, but it is the outsider who will walkthrough. The house remains where it has always been. And while we might redecorate a bit, true innovative change remains outside our front garden.

As equality is on the agenda when we aim for inclusion, inclusion itself becomes problematic: Because if we let people into our group, the power is still in favour of the group. Whoever is invited to the table will be able to add value to the group, but only by becoming an integrated part of it. The group only changes slightly and the power to open and close the door often remain with the same people in power, within the same mentality. How, then, is such a process supposed to create transformational outcomes?

To truly achieve diversity, Hutchins and Storm suggest another approach: Social synergy. Though the term sounds a bit fluffier than inclusion, the philosophy behind it is solid. Social synergy simply means two or more inputs coming together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It kind of means that we must get used 1 + 1 = 3. The extra value is created in the coming together part of the process. It is here that true equality and potential for greatness lie. We emerge together with the other part and become something different – something better – entirely. Instead of opening our door and warmly welcoming the neighbours from across the street, we meet them on the main street with open arms halfway and build something new together.

The missing link between inclusion and diversity is, thus, the mindset. Diversity is the result, inclusion is the action we must take, but without an attitude where we are ready for true change, the positive outcomes are minimized, and the results come much slower. To achieve the great outcomes diversity generates, we must think of the process as a way to achieve social synergy – not just a more inclusive environment. The ambition must be set high. This shift of mentality requires we take an honest look at what is. What dominates the group dynamics in your organisation? What stands in the way of higher levels of co-creation? Excellent value creation lies in true co-creation and that takes the courage to let go of what is comfortable and dare to venture on to greatness with an open mind and a trusting heart.

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