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Diversity vs. Inclusion: The Difference Between Them … and Why Businesses Need Both

While “Diversity” and “Inclusion” often are used interchangeably, the difference between the two concepts is vitally important.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), studies show that teams or organizations with diverse qualities, experiences and work styles bring more ideas, perspectives and approaches to the table. On top of efforts to diversify their employee base, businesses may want to take note of the organizational success associated with the move toward inclusion.

 Defining the difference

As defined by SHRM, diversity references the similarities and differences between individuals, accounting for all aspects of one’s personality and individual identity. It implies variety in characteristics like race, sex or age.

Inclusion, however, refers to the efforts used to embrace those differences. It describes how much each person feels welcomed, respected, supported and valued. Inclusion is about seeing employees’ whole selves, recognizing that their differences make them uniquely qualified to contribute to the organization.

As diversity and inclusion expert Vernā Myers explains, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

 How inclusion leads to organizational success

 Consider this: According to the McKinsey & Company report Delivering Through Diversity, ethnically and racially diverse companies are 33% more likely to outperform industry norms, while gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to earn more revenue. Released in January 2018, the report suggests that gender, ethnic and cultural diversity correlate to financial performance, particularly when the diversity is within executive teams.

These high-performing companies acknowledge that commitment to an inclusive environment starts at the top. The McKinsey report’s authors note that progress on representation is a start and can be done relatively quickly, with the right initiatives (such as targeted recruiting), while embedding inclusion within the organization can take time to develop.

Inclusion stretches far beyond hiring employees with different backgrounds and ethnicities. It is a mindset in which employers actively provide each member of the workforce with equal access to opportunities. Organizations can begin to transition from diversity efforts to those of inclusion, to create an environment in which all employees can thrive and contribute their best work.