For years we’ve been approaching diversity in the workplace in completely the wrong way. Here’s why we need to completely reboot our thinking.

Diversity & Inclusion is such an ingrained concept in organisational behaviour that we now accept it unquestioningly. Like an unexpressed form of confirmation bias, the fact everyone is looking at diversity ahead of inclusion translates into tacit acceptance that it’s the only way to look at D&I.

And years of working with clients to create more culturally inclusive workplaces have taught us that it no longer makes no sense to deal with the D before you deal with the I.

So, as of right now, here at Convergent Consulting we’re changing the way we prioritise the work that’s needed to create truly diverse and truly inclusive organisations.

And here’s why we absolutely believe you should follow our lead.

Estee Lauder Companies recognised a long time ago, and for good reason, that they needed to emphasise inclusion first – and as a result, the creation of an inclusive environment for their people has catalysed their success across diverse locations, diverse products and diverse locations. And here is their definition of each:

Inclusion: A commitment to creating an environment that recognises, values and respects the differences we all bring to the workplace, allowing everyone to do their best work.

Diversity: All the human characteristics that make us who we are and fuel our perspectives, behaviours and ideas.

Why do so many companies cling to diversity?

Diversity is easy to measure – it’s a matter of headcount – and companies love to present an easy-to-understand statistic or graph for how many women or people of colour they have hired. What about all the other kinds of diversity – is a company only focusing on the visually identifiable types? What about neurodiversity? What about diversity of thought, background, education, sexuality?

Harder to measure is the level of inclusivity in an organisation. Understanding the narratives and experiences of people which make up an organisation is how we can get an idea of how inclusive that organisation is. This takes trust, time and patience. But the pay-off is huge.

Research carried out by the Harvard Business Review found ‘employees with inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unlocked. Employees who are able to bring their whole selves to work are 42% less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. Those with sponsors are 62% more likely to have asked for and have received a promotion. And 69% of women who off-ramp would have stayed at their companies if they’d had flexible work options.’

“Diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities” – Harvard Business Review

Conversations about increasing the level of diversity typically start with, How can we hire more people from underrepresented groups?

Yet, the most successful diversity efforts don’t begin with hiring at all – they begin with inclusive cultures.

When inclusion isn’t prioritised first, diversity issues, along with retention challenges, end up being magnified. If your organisational culture doesn’t welcome and develop diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and ideas, what will make those hires stay for the longer term so you can shape them into your future leaders?

So instead the question organisations would be better off asking themselves is, Do we have a culture that will help us retain all great talent, whether they happen to be under-represented or not?

In an inclusive environment all employees are comfortable with sharing ideas and insights. And the environment you create within your organisation will be a predictor of retention and productivity.

“Convince me why it’s in the best interests of my organisation/business to hire more women, people of colour…” 

At Convergent Consulting we don’t try to convince our clients of anything related to Inclusion and Diversity – we don’t believe that our work on I&D is about making a “business case”.

The fact is your organisation can only benefit from creating a culture that’s right for its own values and reflects its brand. Of course, this can include hiring more women and people of colour, but prioritising an effective internal culture is the intuitive place to start.

The reality of the world today is that there is a skills shortage, and so a singular, non-wavering approach to filling that shortage is not enough. There are many different diverse and under-represented groups which can add to the success of business, not just those who are visually identifiable as being diverse. And these same people are out there looking for opportunities.

Creating an inclusive culture will put you ahead of your competitors in attracting talented people from all backgrounds. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’re not mining every talent seam, you can never be sure you’re seeing the very best candidates, never mind hiring them.

And ultimately, an inclusive culture is a sign of good corporate citizenship.

Inclusion Literacy within your company

Developing an awareness of how unconscious bias impacts decision making can be helpful. Yet training your people in what this is will be unlikely to affect change on its own, but it can get everyone thinking. However, a training session can’t control the direction of those thoughts, nor should it aim to. In fact, organisations need to be aware unconscious bias training can put people on the defensive, especially if those trainings are mandatory.

The alternative is to add Inclusion Literacy to the competencies you want all your people to develop, from the leadership team to the most junior members. By making Inclusion Literacy part of the development process you signal the importance of collaborative behaviours. It is these behaviours which will create the inclusive culture eluding so many firms going solely down the unconscious bias route.

Inclusion Literacy can be evaluated throughout the year, in the performance review process and especially when choosing candidates for a role. The people you bring into your organisation have as much impact on the internal culture as the people you already have.

Cultural Intelligence outside of your company

Emotional Intelligence is grounded of the context of our social upbringing and cultures, and we assess the world around us through that context. Cultural Intelligence (CI) is a skill which moves us one step on from Emotional Intelligence. CI is about taking that awareness to the next stage to understand why people from different places do things differently to us and how our assumptions could derail projects.

Cultural Intelligence isn’t a skill that relates only to recruitment or staff retention, either. An organisation will have myriad external touchpoints which might be influenced for the better – or worse – by how deftly or not CI is deployed.

If one imagines a scenario in which your company might be looking to raise capital through investment, it’s easy to see how the global nature of business might put you around a table with potential investors from very culturally diverse backgrounds and how your ability to use CI effectively could be the difference between closing a deal and losing it.

That’s why we work with organisations through workshops and individual coaching to develop CI as well as helping them to understand the potential negative impact of not having it.

At the end of the day…

The culture of successful modern business transcends every physical and notional boundary you can imagine. It recognises no geographical borders, acknowledges no hierarchy and laughs in the face of organograms.

That creates huge opportunities, but only at the point we realise that we’re all diverse and none of us is defined solely by our genetics, our cultures or the lifestyle choices we make. Inclusion & Diversity is not just the responsibility of leaders, but of everyone in the organisation.

At Convergent Consulting we know there are many routes to creating an inclusive environment. The start of each one of these routes involves open and candid conversations about what your organisation is trying to create and build – which can feel daunting, but with our help it doesn’t have to be.

Inclusion Literacy and Cultural Intelligence are the skills all organisations need to succeed in a changing world. Developing them is simply a matter of dedication from the leadership level and appropriate support for all people in the organisation. To build strong, resilient cross-cultural relationships – between teams and daily responsibilities, between hierarchies and between geographical locations – is to create a business that will thrive in a contemporary global environment.

And even whilst we believe Inclusion needs to come before Diversity, our passion for discussing topics related to underrepresented groups hasn’t changed. You will still hear from us regularly on the beauty of diversity, as well as the communities created through inclusion.