Home TopicAssociations Understanding the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’

Understanding the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’

by Stuart Wood

Nick Gold, MD of Speakers Corner, says it’s important to understand the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’.


Diversity and inclusion have been prominent topics in corporate boardrooms for a few years now. Many companies set diversity targets or aim to engineer a culture of inclusion, and event professionals are increasingly familiar with the terminology. But just how much tangible change have we seen?

The main issue arises when the two terms – diversity and inclusion – are assimilated. In many businesses, diversity and inclusion are adopted under the same umbrella heading, a process which assumes that diversity automatically equates to inclusion.

In most of these cases, diversity is treated as a box-ticking exercise, with a significant focus on recruitment. Companies analyse their current staff demographic, spotting the areas of identity that are currently under-represented. The main purpose of this task is to fulfil an expectation or requirement.

Without talking too much about recruitment, the box-ticking approach in business can, on paper, build a more diverse workforce. However, just because you have a diverse team or boardroom doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is being listened to or treated equally. Diversity deals with the ‘what’, inclusion deals with the ‘how’.

Spotting moments where companies are technically diverse but fail to fulfil inclusion can be difficult, particularly for those unaffected by biases. Take the events industry, for example. Events are high risk because they are one-off transactions driven by bottom-line performance.

If the event fails – either by poor visitor numbers, operational costs exceeding budget and so on, the company’s bottom line is hit. And, unsurprisingly because no-one likes to report to the board that their portfolio is bringing in less revenue this year, the events industry can often resist change. Floorplan layouts, change to conference agendas, investing in marketing to attract new audiences, new venues, cities or even countries, and so on, all carry an element of risk.

When managing risk, we often find leaders turn to what they know, which means contributions from a diverse team can be side-lined. Despite the energy and ideas of new or different employees, fear factor at senior level blocks rejuvenated ideas, methods and structure. Thus, what could be regarded as a diverse workplace on paper is not inclusive, because so many voices go unheard.

Those companies who treat diversity as a quota-filling exercise, are putting themselves at a great disadvantage. That is because, put simply, they are missing out on the benefits brought by inclusivity. And there are so many.

The newbies are a good place to start. These are the people who have just started with the business, the people with the fresh ideas, new perspectives, and energy to deliver. They have not yet been blinded by a history of ‘we have always done it this way’, but rather they can offer a perspective of ‘why are you doing this, or what about this idea?’

The power of the newbies does not disregard the longstanding employees – those who understand all the nuances, idiosyncrasies and trends of the company, as well as the broader sector it is part of. In fact, the fresh thinkers can build on and enhance the existing expertise of the company. They can bring insight, ideas, their background and culture, their stories and their experience to illuminate new opportunities for the company.

Without this diversity of opinion, the company is likely to stay on the same path it has always been on. In the current state of change in the world, such complacency will not bring success or longevity. What we need now is innovation.

For diverse staff to feel they have a voice that matters in their company they need strong leadership, who lead by forming a strong team. The team then work together, understanding that the value of their collective and collaborative processes is greater than a group of individuals who merely do as they are told.

The leader invites questions, attracts answers, and embraces both. Even when something goes wrong, a good leader will mentor those around so that together, the team can embrace mistakes. It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that all voices in a discussion are amplified, that there are no employees who are struggling to participate and remain unheard.

The leader must reassure all staff that while experienced voices may deliver with more confidence, every voice in the company hold equal validity. Lacking initial confidence or strength of delivery does not mean that the fresh idea is any less valid. In fact, the renewed modes of thinking and ideas are often just what we need today.

Inclusion really means that everyone in the room has an equal voice. It requires everyone understanding that diversity in opinion will bring direction to the team that could be potentially unexpected, but also forward thinking. Inclusion will bring the team together so that they feel – together – that they can take the company forward. It will make the individual feel like they are not just working for a company, but that they belong to, and are part of, something special.

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