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From Diversity to Inclusion—Breaking Down Barriers on the Path to UNcommon Ground

Can a diverse workplace thrive without inclusion?

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace have been well studied and reported.Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.2 The leader of a diverse employee base also knows the workforce will be more qualified, productive, and stable if it is composed of different types of people, with different voices and perspectives, all of whom feel welcome, respected, and heard. That sounds good, but given this established and accepted premise, how do we ensure that all of the differences in our employment community are actually embraced so that each and every employee feels they are an integral part of the team? The benefits of diversity are only truly realized when it is partnered with inclusion. Fostering workplace diversity without inclusion, at best, checks a box and, at worst, fosters more conflict and disrespect. Here are some practical tips to help employers and employees make progress on this journey.

Start an Organizational Dialogue

  • If you have not already done so, initiate conversations about these issues at every level within your organization. Diversity and inclusion should not be topics reserved for annual management training and then forgotten. They are issues relevant to everyone and should be tactfully yet openly discussed.
  • Educate your workforce about your organization’s values and expectations in fostering a work environment where being a meaningful and active part of a community is available to everyone. Start with leaders, who must model the message that everyone’s perspective is valued and welcomed while openly seeking out diverse perspectives. Incorporate guidance on moving from diversity to inclusion in leadership training sessions - why it matters and how to actively foster inclusion given the practical realities of management and business objectives. Don’t stop there. Everyone in your work community should participate in learning about respectful work behaviors and how inclusion is a part of that equation.
  • Make training interactive and encourage attendees to participate in exercises designed to get them thinking and talking about their own role in creating an inclusive workspace. This training would include exploring unconscious and conscious biases, and what to do with them, in a safe and non-judgmental setting.
  • Continue sharing these messages throughout the work environment via other global training efforts and community-wide communications, with the goal of emphasizing the overall importance of inclusion in a respectful workplace, reminders about the moral and economic bases for inclusion, and guidance on how to achieve it.

Seek Feedback

  • Once you’ve established a regular practice of clearly communicating expectations, seek out feedback from your workforce about their thoughts and ideas on inclusion. This might mean circulating employee surveys, conducting focus groups, and holding town hall meetings to gather information from the community about what is working and what needs attention; what does and does not foster inclusion and engagement in their experience? An anonymous option for providing feedback should be available to capture valuable feedback from people who are less comfortable with speaking openly, are introverted, or are worried about the consequences of sharing unpopular or negative sentiments.
  • Consider forming a committee of diverse leaders3 dedicated to the concept of inclusion who will meet regularly with a mission of exploring ways to foster inclusivity in hiring and retention efforts. This committee should meet regularly—perhaps monthly or quarterly—to review organizational feedback, troubleshoot challenges, and serve as a liaison on issues related to inclusion between the general workforce and top executives. The committee should regularly communicate with all stakeholders regarding the organizational progress related to inclusion and seek ongoing feedback from everyone in the community. The committee should make a point of clearly communicating the feedback it has received and actions that will be taken in response.

Create Connection

Differences among employees should be not just accepted but honored and celebrated. This means inviting employees at all levels in your organization to share their culture, history, background, and traditions whenever possible.

  • Create regular opportunities for the workforce to forge meaningful connections with each other. The obvious vehicle is food—we all have to eat, and this communal pursuit really can generate connectivity.
    • Potluck meals are relatively simple to arrange and manage, and can easily showcase different backgrounds and ethnicities.
    • Holiday parties, picnics, and other work gatherings are perfect opportunities to include and honor different cuisines and cultures.
    • Providing time and an area for employees to informally connect over coffee, tea, or food, can enhance work relationships.
  • Dedicated space for different communal activities. Most companies make some sort of shared space available for those who want to enjoy meals together or just hang out on breaks during the day. An organization with a true commitment to inclusion would provide private and quiet space for contemplation, prayer, or meditation, as well.
  • Communicate widely and transparently about your organization’s diversity and the pride the organization takes in its diverse and inclusive workforce. Take every opportunity to send positive messages about inclusion—from an internal newsletter, to your shareholder communications, to social media posts, to your website.

Reinforce the Message and Values

  • Leaders should be held accountable for demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity. Leaders are responsible for the environment—whether good or bad—in their respective departments and workspace. Ongoing feedback from their own managers helps to hold leaders accountable, as does tying diversity and inclusion goals to their performance evaluations. Inclusivity must be considered a core competency.
  • Leaders can establish and reinforce their commitment to inclusion by structuring meetings, allocating resources, and using language that advances inclusion.
    • Distribute meeting materials and an agenda in advance. This is helpful for workers for whom English is a second language and for introverted employees who function better when they are given time to process information.
    • Reach out to teleworkers. Make sure you have appropriate and functioning technology for virtual meeting participants. Welcome them to the meeting, ask them questions, and pause to be sure they have the opportunity to take part in the conversation.
    • Schedule meetings with an eye to time zones, flexible work schedules to the extent possible, and other considerations for all attending.
  • Demonstrate respectful communication.
    • Praise in public, offer constructive feedback in private.
    • Think about tone and style in all communications.
    • Address disrespect by others head on. Allowing your team to treat each other badly is essentially condoning the behavior.
    • Leaders need to actively embrace the idea of collective responsibility for inclusion.

Demonstrate that your organization is not just raising these issues to check a box, but with the genuine intention of improving the workplace for everyone and leveraging the natural benefits to business in general. Update your policy, regularly train employees and managers about these issues, and ensure that considerations as to how everyone can meaningfully be part of the organization are always top of mind and part of the fabric of how business is conducted. The ultimate goals of these efforts, of course, is to create a workplace where employees feel not only mutual respect (common ground), but also true appreciation of what each of us uniquely offers to the organization and greater work environment (UNcommon ground).

1 Engaging and Integrating a Global Workforce, February 2015,,
2 Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, Why diversity matters, January 2015,,
3 Diverse with respect to race, age, sexuality, gender, ability, position in the hierarchy, etc.