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The Importance of Making a Step from Diversity to Inclusion

Wednesday January 24, 2024

Inclusive workplace with a diverse group of employees meeting around a table

An increasing number of organizations are recognizing the value of diversity in the workplace. Having people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives in your organization can result in improved decision-making and productivity.

However, diversity alone isn’t enough. In order to maximize the benefits of diversity—to your organization and employees alike—it’s important to create an inclusive culture as well.

Continue reading to learn more about diversity in the workplace, and how to move from diversity to inclusion.

Importance of Diversity in the Workplace

Before understanding the benefits of diversity at work, it’s important to understand what diversity means.

According to McKinsey, diversity includes:

  • Gender diversity: Representation from different gender groups, including men, women, and nonbinary
  • Age diversity: Representation from individuals from multiple generations
  • Ethnic and racial diversity: Representation from different nations, cultures, and races
  • Physical and neurodiversity: Representation from people with physical and neurological disabilities, both apparent and not

While these forms of diversity are the most common, diversity encompasses a wide range of additional factors. For example, religion, sexual orientation, experience, and even the way people think are all examples of diversity.


There are multiple benefits of a diverse workforce. According to McKinsey, diverse companies are between 15-35% more likely to exceed industry medians in profits. McKinsey also reports that, for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity in leadership, EBIT increases by 0.8%.

In addition to benefits to a company’s bottom-line, diversity can improve employee morale, retention, and productivity. However, these benefits aren’t inherent to a diverse workforce. That’s because diversity alone falls short if it isn’t paired with inclusion.

Why Diversity Alone Isn’t Enough

Unfortunately, even diverse workforces experience biases and struggles. Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports that 31% of AAPI, and 25% of Black and Hispanic employees experience negative stereotypes, biases, and unfair treatment.

Marginalized groups also tend to feel less respected and have more difficulty advancing in their role.

The advantages associated with diversity aren’t automatic. Diverse teams can underperform homogenous teams if they’re not managed actively for differences among members. This is often a sign of tokenism—when leaders hire from marginalized groups for the appearance of diversity, without actually creating an open and inclusive environment.

According to HBR, leaders need to build inclusive teams, rather than simply diverse ones. The differences between diverse and inclusive teams are as follows:

  • Diverse teams: Diverse knowledge is partially shared among team members
  • Homogenous teams: Common knowledge is fully shared among team members
  • Inclusive teams: Diverse knowledge is fully shared among team members


In order for organizations to reap the benefits commonly associated with diversity, they need to focus on the third category—building an inclusive workforce.

How To Improve Inclusion at Your Workplace

Moving beyond a diverse culture to an inclusive one is harder than simply hiring for diversity, but well worth the effort.

Gallup lists three requirements for an inclusive organization:

  1. Everyone is treated with respect
  2. Managers appreciate everyone’s unique characteristics
  3. Leadership acts ethically and morally

Creating a culture in which employees feel like they belong is tricky. According to McKinsey, this process involves:

  • Employees’ personal experiences at the workplace
  • How they perceive the company at large

In order to build this culture, take the following steps:

1. Address Biases

The first step to creating an inclusive workplace is identifying and addressing biases—both implicit and explicit.

  • Explicit biases are obvious, blatant biases that are easily identified
  • Implicit biases are biases that you might not be aware of, and are harder to recognize in yourself and others

As a leader, it’s important to lead by example in this area. Make sure you address your own biases as well as helping your team address theirs. Keep in mind that even biases as simple as biases towards employees from rival colleges can impact your thinking.

The Harvard Implicit Association Test is a free online tool that allows you to test your implicit biases. While this tool isn’t intended to be a definitive calculator of biases and stereotypes, it can help raise awareness of potential negative associations you might have with different groups of people.

2. Hold Yourself Accountable

It’s important to make sure you’re holding yourself accountable to your diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) objectives. If you don’t follow through on your DEI initiatives, your employees will perceive them as empty words.

HBR lists out three ways to hold yourself accountable to your DEI initiatives:

  • Track how promotions are awarded: Are you awarding promotions indiscriminately, or are you subconsciously awarding promotions to people with similar characteristics?
  • Take note of any inequities: For example, is there a noticeable pay gap between men and women in your organization? Are your hiring practices equitable?
  • Proactively and explicitly address them: Don’t assume the problem will simply go away with time. Be proactive in addressing inequities and biases.

By holding yourself accountable, you’ll be able to more effectively hold your team accountable as well.

3. Don’t Neglect Less-Common Forms of Diversity

Many leaders prioritize racial and ethnic diversity, but don’t proactively address other forms of diversity and discrimination.

For example, according to HBR, only 8% of companies include age in their DEI strategies. When organizations do address it, their strategy tends to lean towards denying differences and emphasizing similarities, rather than focusing on how to learn from one another’s differences.

However, when different generations work together effectively, they have:

  • Improve decision-making
  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Greater overall performance

For this reason, it’s important to help different generations in your organization collaborate and leverage differences for improved results, rather than stifling them.

Another form of diversity that’s often neglected is neurodivergence. For example, HBR reports that 85% of U.S. college graduates with autism struggle to find jobs post-graduation. Despite this, most companies don’t have programs pertaining to supporting neurodiversity in hiring and overall success.

Make sure to identify implicit biases surrounding preferences for certain characteristics like charisma or extraversion. Neglecting to do so can result in unintentional discrimination against people with neurological differences.

4. Prioritize Justice in the Workplace

As mentioned above, diversity improves productivity and profits. However, to create an inclusive environment and avoid tokenism, make sure your messaging and goals doesn’t just focus on the business case.

According to HBR, employees from marginalized groups who read messaging that just speaks to the business case of diversity have:

  • 11% lower sense of belonging
  • 16% more concerned they’ll be stereotyped
  • 10% more concerned that they’ll be perceived as interchangeable with other members of their identity group
  • 6% less likely to feel the company’s commitment to diversity is genuine

Instead of simply hiring a diverse workforce for the financial and productivity benefits it can bring, focus on creating justice in the workplace. According to HBR, workplace justice is concerned with the following:

  • Fairness of organizational procedures and outcomes
  • Dignity in the treatment of all employees
  • Sufficient information provided to every employee

HBR recommends Leventhal’s six procedural justice criteria to determine how inclusive your organization is. These include:

  1. Consistency: Procedures are consistently applied across employees
  2. Bias suppression: Biases are addressed and, to the extent possible, eliminated from procedures
  3. Accuracy: Information that’s used for decision-making is accurate
  4. Correctability: If a decision is made that’s inaccurate, mechanisms are in place to correct these decisions
  5. Representativeness: Everyone’s views and opinions are taken into account and factored into decision-making
  6. Ethicality: Decisions conform to ethical and moral standards

It’s important to remember that transparency in procedures and decision-making is critical to promote inclusion, psychological safety, and organizational performance.

5. Be Intentional About How You Provide Feedback

HBR research shows that 94% of employees believe their performance improves when they receive well-presented corrective feedback.

Providing this feedback to a diverse workforce can be challenging, however, since well-presented feedback can look different for different people.

For example, differences in cultural communication styles can impact how others perceive your communication style, and neglecting to account for those differences can result in unintentional hurt feelings or perceiving feedback as an act of hostility.

To account for this, it’s important to:

  • Improve psychological safety: Most people don’t respond well to criticism unless they feel safe with the person who provides it. Improving psychological safety in your workplace can help employees receive feedback, as well as yielding other benefits such as innovation and wellbeing.
  • Be open and transparent with employees: If employees feel that you’re being open and vulnerable with them, it’s more likely that they’ll be understanding if you accidentally say something that could be misinterpreted.
  • Give feedback with empathy and clarity: It’s always vital to remember that you’re interacting with other people, not cogs in a machine. Make sure you’re communicating with empathy, while also clearly expressing your thoughts.

If you’re unsure how to improve your system of giving and receiving feedback, consider our Feedback Framework experience. This live, virtual, workshop, led by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, will help your team learn the importance of direct, constructive, and empathetic feedback.

6. Proactively Address Pushback

Gartner reports that 42% of workers believe their peers are resentful of DEI initiatives and perceive them as divisive rather than inclusive. This presents a significant challenge for leaders hoping to build inclusive environments.

This pushback typically comes in three forms:

  • Denial: “It’s not a problem”
  • Disengagement: “It’s not my problem”
  • Derailment: “What about other problems?”

In order to address this, Gartner recommends the following:

  • Communicate openly without invalidating anyone’s feelings or experiences
  • Focus on building empathy and raising awareness
  • Invite employees to participate in the company’s DEI efforts

By proactively addressing pushback, and making sure you’re not invalidating anyone’s feelings or experiences, you’ll have a better chance of ensuring that everyone feels a strong sense of belonging, even those who initially might be uncomfortable with DEI endeavors.

7. Make Sure Everyone Feels Valued and Appreciated

Ultimately, building an inclusive environment requires everyone to feel included. If your team feels siloed, or that their thoughts aren’t important, the team’s overall sense of belonging will be hindered.

According to Gallup, only three in 10 employees in the U.S. believe their opinions are important to leadership.

Feeling like thoughts and opinions aren’t important doesn’t just hinder inclusion, however, but can also result in employees neglecting to speak up if they have ideas or concerns. Gallup estimates that if the number of employees who felt their opinions were important increased to six in 10, it could have the following benefits:

  • 27% lower turnover
  • 40% fewer safety incidents
  • 12% increase in productivity

These metrics would be even higher if the number was increased to 10 in 10.

Ensuring that your employees feel that their efforts are acknowledged, appreciated, and valued is critical to fostering an inclusive workplace environment. In a culture of belonging:

  • Each employee feels appreciated for their individual contributions
  • Genuine relationships are cultivated between coworkers
  • Differences are appreciated rather than discouraged

If you’re hoping to find a way to show appreciation to each member of your team, consider our Recognizing Strengths experience. This team building experience will provide an avenue for everyone to demonstrate appreciation for their fellow team members, while also teaching them how to receive positive feedback.

Improve Inclusion and Belonging with Teamraderie

Diverse teams need an inclusive environment to realize their full potential. Team leaders should ask themselves:

  • Am I maximizing the effects of diversity on our outcomes?
  • Are my team members comfortable being authentic and sharing their unique points of view?
  • Are differences in opinions perceived as a positive attribute of our team?

Leaders have an opportunity to leverage virtual experiences to help team members deeply connect with each other and learn the value of novel perspectives.

Teamraderie’s experiences are live, virtual, expert-led workshops intended to help your team connect and feel like they belong.

Two Teamraderie experience that are excellent for improving inclusivity at work are:

  • Transformative Change: Led by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marcia Chatelain, this experience will help your team learn from the past to promote an inclusive future. It’s an excellent way to begin creating an environment where everyone’s voice is heard, and the entire team feels included.
  • Whiskey Trailblazer: Led by a food and beverage expert, this experience will take your team on a learning journey by exploring the history of “Nearest” Green—the world’s first known African-American Master Distiller—all while sharing in a whiskey-tasting experience together.

Teamraderie offers over 60 experiences, each intended to help your team connect and build trust together. To find the perfect experience for your team, consider chatting with our chatbot, TeamraderieGPT, to find out which experience fits your team’s specific needs.

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