Diversity + Inclusion.

What Is Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace?

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are interconnected concepts that refer to the variety of unique individuals that make up a group of people and the environment that allows them to work together as equally valued contributors. Workplaces that prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts have been statistically proven to be safer, happier and more productive work environments.

Diversity Definition
Inclusion Definition
Diversity and Inclusion Benefits
Diversity and Inclusion Statistics
Diversity Definition
Diversity and inclusion encompass a group of unique individuals who acquaint and integrate with one another. | Image: Shutterstock

What Is Diversity in the Workplace?

Diversity in the workplace means that an organization employs a diverse team of people that’s reflective of the society in which it exists and operates.

Unfortunately, determining what makes a team diverse isn’t so simple.

Diversity incorporates all of the elements that make individuals unique from one another, and while there are infinite differences in humans, most of us subconsciously define diversity by a few social categories, such as gender, race, age and so forth.

Diversity Meaning

In its simplest form, diversity means being composed of differing elements. In a workplace, diversity means that the workforce is made up of employees with different races, gender identities, career backgrounds, skills and so on. Diversity is proven to make communities and workplaces more productive, tolerant and welcoming.

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces laws to protect individual employees in the workplace based on specified social categories that commonly face discrimination in American culture. These social categories are typically defined in some version of a Non-Discrimination Statement and Policy, such as this one by the U.S. government:

“The United States Government does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factor.”

There are certainly more visible and invisible elements that make individuals diverse from one another than those defined by these statements, but these broad categories can help companies identify gaps in diversity. They also provide measurable metrics for companies to set goals and make concerted efforts to boost diversity in the workplace.

There’s no doubt that improving diversity and inclusion will be at the forefront of just about every company’s agenda from here on out. In fact, more that 1,600 CEOs have signed onto the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, which aims to rally the business community to advance D&I efforts. The pledge focuses on commitments towards more open conversations towards diversity and inclusion, expanding unconscious bias training and having a strategic plan of action for all D&I efforts that has to be approved by each company’s board of directors. These are solid first steps in creating a more diverse work environment, but true progress involves holding leadership accountable for following through on these actions.

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Inclusion Definition

What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?

Although often used in tandem with diversity, inclusion is a concept of its own.

SHRM defines inclusion separately from diversity as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

Inclusion Meaning

Inclusion is the practice of providing everyone with equal access to opportunities and resources. Inclusion efforts in the workplace help to give traditionally marginalized groups — like those based on gender, race or disabilities — a means for them to feel equal in the workplace. Inclusive actions, like creating employee resource groups or hosting information sessions, make the workplace a safer, more respectful environment for all employees.

Inclusion in the workplace is all about understanding and respect. Making sure everybody’s voices and opinions are heard and carefully considered is vital in creating a more inclusive work environment where everyone feels respected. Creating a work environment where everyone feels accepted and where everyone is part of the decision-making process is incredibly challenging and needs constant support to make it work. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, promoting and measuring inclusion among employees is extremely difficult. First, leadership must come up with a well-rounded definition of “inclusion.” Then, people and HR teams must consistently gather feedback from all employees regarding their current or proposed efforts. (This is an important step because you can’t have inclusion without having the opinions of all employees.) Then, D&I leaders can take some of the following actions to promote inclusivity in the workplace:

  • Have leadership undergo training in unconscious bias and active listening.
  • Form an inclusion council that plays an active role in goal-setting, hiring and retaining your workforce.
  • Create spaces within your office that highlight your diversity. For example, you can have a mother’s room for new mothers to breastfeed in private or you can install a prayer room for your employees to have the privacy to practice their religions.
  • Create employee resource groups (ERGs) that give employees safe spaces to get together and talk about common interests. For example, you can have LGBTQ+ groups, groups for new parents, groups for women in sales. These groups give employees the chance to get together and share what they are going through in a safe, non-judgmental way. These groups can also be excellent teachers to the rest of the employees, where they can host company-wide talks on topics that are important to them.


Diversity vs. Inclusion

Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome. Not only is inclusivity crucial for diversity efforts to succeed, but creating an inclusive culture will prove beneficial for employee engagement and productivity.

What Is the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting. In the workplace that can mean differences in race, ethnicity, gender identity, age and more. Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging and support from the organization.

According to Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer, diversity is the “what” and inclusion is the “how” in your workplace. Diversity focuses on the demographics of your workplace — for instance, gender, race, age, professional background and sexual orientation — while inclusion focuses on efforts towards helping employees — with all of those different aforementioned traits (plus thousands of more) — feel safe, happy and respected. 

Though diversity and inclusion may be different, you cannot have either without first establishing a culture that embraces different perspectives. A close-minded workplace culture will ultimately fail to facilitate any semblance of diversity or inclusion. It is leadership’s responsibility to overtly acknowledge that different perspectives matter.

The more diverse an organization gets, the more important inclusion becomes. Inclusive efforts need to focus on making every single employee feel like they are respected and trusted, regardless of their background. Making the Black mother of three in accounting or the non-binary employee in engineering truly feel they share an equal voice with all other employees is imperative towards crafting a thriving diverse and inclusive workplace.

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Diversity and Inclusion Benefits

Business Benefits of Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

Aside from being a clear social, political, ethical and moral responsibility, there are some serious benefits associated with diversity in the workplace, especially since it has a significant impact on how customers and employees perceive a business.

Diversity and Inclusion Benefits in the Workplace

  • New customers
  • Improved retention
  • More profitability
  • Greater corporate innovation

An emphasis on diversity and inclusion can help with revenue, customer reach and employee recruiting and retention.

  1. Companies with more ethnically diverse executive teams are 36 percent more likely to outperform on profitability, and companies with gender diverse executive teams are 25 percent more likely.
  2. A 2018 study showed companies with diverse boards performed better financially.
  3. A BCG study found a strong, statistically significant positive relationship between diversity and corporate innovation.
  4. Glassdoor found that 76 percent of employees and job seekers consider diversity an important element of their workplace, which affects recruitment and retention.
  5. Diverse companies are 70 percent more likely to capture a new market audience.
  6. A Deloitte survey found 78 percent of people surveyed said diversity and inclusion makes a company more competitive. 
  7. Employees who say they have strong allies at work report being 86 percent more likely to recommend their company and 53 percent less likely to consider leaving. They are also more likely to be happy with their jobs and less likely to be burned out.
    Diversity and Inclusion Statistics

    Diversity in the Workplace Statistics


    Workplace Demographic Statistics

    Those figures alone should be enough to convince any business that fostering a diverse workplace is a top priority, but when we break down the latest statistics it’s evident that we still have a long way to go.  


    Diversity in the Tech Industry

    The tech industry, in particular, has some startling diversity statistics. An analysis by Findem, a company whose AI platform helps fill talent gaps, looked at diversity among 10 leading tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Zoom. Here are some of the findings:

    • LinkedIn’s workforce had the highest representation of women at 39 percent, with women making up 40 percent of the company’s leaders.
    • DocuSign employed the largest portion of women in technical roles at just under 25 percent.
    • Facebook reported half of its employees were non-white, the highest percentage among the 10 companies.
    • Facebook also had the most Asian representation, with 38 percent of its employees identifying as Asian.
    • Uber reported the largest portion of employees who identify as Black or African American at 5 percent, as well as the largest percentage of Hispanic or Latinx employees at 8 percent.
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