The concept of diversity and inclusion as we see it in action has its flaws. Rather than ‘diverse and included,’ organizations often end up being ‘diverse and independent’ or worse, ‘diverse and assimilated.’ There must be a better way.
The first word, diversity, describes what exists: a set of different groups. The second word, inclusion, begins to describe the goal: to create space where these different groups are (ideally) equally appreciated.
Many organizations focus first on increasing diversity (differences and divisions in the organization) by striving to recruit a more varied set of individuals, and as organizations progress on their journeys, they then set their sights on inclusion. Organizations often struggle during the shift from achieving diversity to fostering inclusion.
The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Strategies
In my work studying Millennial behavior, I was very curious about young people’s perspectives on the idea of diversity. While we all exhibit natural biases as a part of our neurology, Millennials tend to assume the presence of diversity and struggle to believe that equal opportunity is not automatic reality.
There are many reasons for this kind of thinking. For one, the more time that passes from days when ethnocentrism was overt rather than today’s focus on maintaining political correctness, the less (if no) memory that younger generations have of these times.
Another less obvious, more significant reason is that Millennials and Gen Z grew up in the digital era and are used to a world where titles, gender, ethnicity and age are invisible. Today, what matters online is contribution; and if that contribution is perceived as valuable, followership is gained. Followers (and potential followers) value perspective, and the highest value is placed on different perspectives. In other words, diversity is not just present; it is included.
What could organizations do differently based on what the Internet does naturally?
One of the most beloved concepts by readers of my book, The Millennial Myth, is the idea of coversity. Instead of diversity, where groups divide by macro-characteristics by joining women’s networks and other safe harbors to discuss niche issues, coversity promotes topic-driven organization. For example, imagine a gender network, where anyone interested in gender styles at work can collaborate and connect. Underneath this broader topic, subgroups can still gather for supportive, psychologically safe conversations. Consider that the biggest issue with progress on the gender gap is that men are typically uninvolved in the conversation. It’s not too surprising that women have a greater incentive to participate in the women’s network (essentially hanging the “Boys Keep Out!” sign from our childhood days!).
A coversity strategy takes diversity and creates inclusion.
The Role of Inclusion in Innovation
I am a firm believer that inclusion and diversity over the last fifty years in the US has played a critical part in our leading global role as a center of innovation. Many attribute the pace of innovation simply to digitalization and Moore's law. In contrast, I find that significant events, like the Civil Rights movement, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act and the 1972 Equal Rights Movement have increased diversity and inclusion.
Innovation begins when people of different styles and viewpoints intentionally make space to discuss and create something new together, and put that conception to work.
What could be possible for organizations if they implement new approaches for inclusion? What gains in profitability could be reached? What increases in engagement and positive workplace culture could occur?
We are at a pivotal time when we’ve got to start evolving our workplaces to reflect the digital world. Millennial behavior holds clues for what those changes might or might not be.
We could all learn a lot by applying digital behavioral insights to our organization’s existing culture, systems and processes; therefore, providing fuel for creating the ideal future workplace.