Diversity isn’t our ultimate goal. Inclusion is.

Every leader on the planet will tell you he or she runs an inclusive ship.

Most of them are wrong.

According to Joe Gerstandt, they’re mistaking inclusion for diversity, and those two concepts aren’t equal.

“Diversity isn’t the same as inclusion,” Gerstandt, an expert and consultant on the subjects, told the crowd at the 2015 ASAE Annual Meeting in Detroit. “Some diverse organizations are not very inclusive.”

How can that be? If you’ve taken the time to build a team that’s diverse in every conceivable way, wouldn’t that mean you’re automatically inclusive?


According to Gerstandt, too many organizations aim for inclusion but hit assimilation instead. Here’s the difference:


Get that? Assimilation means you’ve set aside your uniqueness in order to conform to the corporate culture. Inclusion means your organization sees your uniqueness as a key part of that culture.

Given that definition, I think it’s safe to say many of our organizations aim for assimilation over inclusion.

We can turn that around, though. Gerstandt says it starts with a conversation … and some hard but insightful questions:

  • What is the narrative about inclusion in your organization? Is it seen as a opportunity or a challenge?
  • Do employees believe the ways in which decisions are made are fair throughout the organization?
  • Is it safe to be unpopular at your organization … at least temporarily? “We’re usually better at getting rid of unpopular people than we are at getting rid of bad performance,” Gerstandt said.
  • Is there a penalty for candor at your organization? Is it safe to give bad news or to tell the truth?
  • Are there things that are not discussed at work?
  • Is there a disparity to access and participation?

Here’s a great way to visualize the challenge of inclusion:

Difference between diversity and inclusion

Do you think Nos. 4 and 8 feel included in their team’s decisions? Not likely.

“We’ve done a great job of bringing more diversity into our organizations,” Gerstandt said. “We still have much to do to make those experiences feel more inclusive.”

It’s important to note that we’re not downplaying diversity here. Diversity is a hugely important goal. No organization can truly flourish unless its entire population is represented.

But diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Diversity without inclusion is nothing more than lip service to the problem.

Embrace all team members and their uniqueness. Give each of them a seat at the table. Make sure they are heard.

Inclusion depends on it.


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