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The difference between diversity and inclusion in the workplace – and why it matters

Gartner analyst Debra Logan says that diversity focuses on variety, but inclusion creates an emphasis on unity within a team

Inclusion in the workplace can only happen if bosses understand people are naturally biased in how they interact with others they recognise as “different”, says a business expert.

Debra Logan, distinguished analyst and vice-president at Gartner, says that diversity is not a pre-requisite for having a productive workforce as employees need to work on being more inclusive and creating a collective identity.

Speaking at the Gartner Data and Analytics Summit in London today (5 March), she said there exists both “visible” and “invisible” diversity, which can influence a set of behaviours towards certain people.

“We’re biased, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “It’s unconscious most of the time and the more you tell yourself you’re not racist, sexist or whatever, the more you’ll make bad decisions.

“So the best thing to do is admit it and realise there’s no shame. We’re more comfortable with people are like us – with the same accent, the same gender, the same cultural background.

“When it comes to the workplace, we have to be conscious of the fact we’re unconsciously biased. As soon as you admit it, that’s half the battle won and it immediately changes things for the better.”

 

Problems with inclusion in the workplace – but how changes could be profitabile

According to Gartner, 85% of chief information officers are male and more than 50% of them are aged 40 to 49.

In addition, seven in ten CIOs have the same introverted personality type.

Across the tech industry, 76% of jobs are held by men and Ms Logan believes tech companies are generally just bad at promoting diversity.

That’s despite research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) finding that a team split evenly along gender lines could increase revenue by nearly 41%, while McKinsey & Co says gender diversity is “positively correlated” with profitability and value creation.

Gartner Debra Logan, inclusion in the workplace
Gartner analyst Debra Logan speaks at the Gartner Data and Analytics Summit in London

Gartner, meanwhile, believes 75% of organisations with “frontline decision-makers” reflecting diverse and inclusive cultures will exceed their financial targets by 2022.

Ms Logan said: “Diversity is a way of getting the best talent because there’s a lot of interest in working in inclusive teams among younger age groups.

“It’s something investors are interested in and you can guarantee that if investors are asking those questions, then it’s something that carries a real financial impact.”

 

Benefits of inclusion in the workplace

The word “diversity” is a vague one that sometimes carries negative and confusing connotations, believes Ms Logan.

Instead, companies should focus on inclusion, which is a more proactive mindset to allow others into a group or structure.

“To be included as a full member is what inclusion is,” she said. “It’s a deliberate state of mind to bring people in.”

Ms Logan pointed out how diversity focuses on variety, but inclusion focuses on unity.

“It’s about recognising difference but making people comfortable with that difference because our fear of difference is primal,” she added.

diversity in tech, women in tech

“In the absence of information, our brain decides that someone from an ‘out-group’ is a threat and we’re the descendants of people who reacted to this with caution.

“How you  change this is to create a group identity with values and goals, showing what it means to be in the team.

“Research shows that diverse teams are better at handling conflict because they kind of expect it, whereas non-inclusive teams don’t.

“They’ll say ‘you aren’t supposed to be different, you came from the same school or family background, how can you be so difficult?”

Diversity without inclusion will ultimately fail though, she said, making it an important point for managers to consider when it comes to staff retention.

Gartner research says the “quit rate” in the tech industry is 41% for women and 17% for men, with Ms Logan saying this is largely because of the lack of attention towards making women feel included within a company.

 

How to create more inclusion in the workplace

The example of office meetings being dominated by certain individuals was given as an example, with young people or women often feeling too intimidated to speak up.

Ms Logan said: “As a person with privilege you can help with that by cultivating different voices.

“Why not have a conversation with the shy person after the meeting and say they have a really good idea and should speak up? Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”

Empowering team members to make decisions, making it safe to propose novel ideas and sharing credit for team success were among other “inclusive behaviours” she proposed.

Managers can also integrate staff from different cultures by encouraging team members to try out activities associated with their “different” colleagues’ cultures – rather than just inviting those people to the more conventional social gatherings, such as at the pub.

Some companies run diversity programmes in a bid to make an impact.

IBM has a “girls outreach programme”, Jaguar Land Rover sponsors women in engineering and Marriott organises a women’s leadership development initiative.

Women in business

SAP, meanwhile, has a target to increase its women in leadership positions by 1% every year – while it’s also promoted opportunities for autistic people after identifying how they can have very high level numerical skills.

A potentially unpopular, but also perhaps effective, method of increasing inclusion in the workplace is to tie business performance to this issue.

This could involve measuring a manager’s own performance on their development and retention of diverse employees, tracking promotion rates of diverse groups, and regular reviews and input to ensure correct programmes are in place.

The problem, however, is that “affirmative action” can lead to negative reactions and perceptions of senior employees from diverse backgrounds.

Ms Logan added: “No one wants to be hired because of who you are – I don’t want a job because I’m a woman, I want it because I’m really good at that both in my mind and the minds of others.

“It’s tough but if you don’t have a way to measure then nothing’s going to happen. SAP will reach its women in leadership target because its bonuses and targets depend on it.”