Diversity vs Inclusion

There is a difference, and why it matters.

Previously, we talked about the push for diversity we are seeing in many modern workplaces. There is a commitment broadly splashed across many corporate pages where the company rants about how much they respect diversity, are committed to diversity, how much they are happy to work with, beside and for people from all backgrounds.

The net they cast is wide. That is probably warranted, given the range of issues people are diverse around. Gender, race, sexuality, disability, culture, religion, hair colour, physical and mental health, political beliefs, the list goes on.

All this seems most admirable. Here we are, stepping out into the 21st century, with this wonderful brave new world where everyone can be exactly who they are, without risk of censure or recrimination.

Except, no.

Let me explain. Firstly, an excellent piece from Forbes-

“Mixed gender executive boards have outperformed all-male ones by 26% over the last six years according to research by Credit Suisse, while global studies have shown that organizations with diverse and inclusive cultures are 45% more likely to have improved their market share in the last 12 months, and have employees who not only give greater discretionary effort but are also less likely to leave. The experimental research suggests that higher market growth is driven by more innovation and better quality decision making within diverse and inclusive teams.”[1]

The data is definitely there to support why companies should care about diversity. But what the article also excellent expands on is why diversity without inclusion is incredibly ineffectual and is actually detrimental to business. Before you leap to conclusions, let me point out that this is not a criticism of a diverse workforce; it is a criticism of diversity policies that do not actively promote inclusion.

“Few organizations even distinguish between diversity and inclusion, let alone measure or target them individually. While diversity can be addressed as a compliance issue and tracked fairly easily, the range of individual behaviors which make up inclusion mean it’s trickier to pin down and add to an HR leader’s goals.”

Therein lies the rub. Diversity can be quantified and reported on. A HR manager can report to senior executives in neat little pie charts and diagrams. “Last quarter, we employed 25% more women and 12.2% more people with disabilities”. Go us. Inclusion, however, is not so neatly sorted and quantified, and is immeasurably harder to promote as a result.

Managers held to targets and KPIs need hard data to substantiate claims. They can’t go on ‘gut’ if they don’t have the data to back it up. Diversity is easy. With contemporary society’s obsession with categorising everyone into neat little boxes, you can deliver outstanding reports that prove how important diversity is to an organisation


This is all well and good, and can satisfy KPIs for diversity, which do exist! Additionally, it gives a manager an opportunity to ‘address’ a shortfall in diversity- just recruit a few more people from that box, and your bonus is assured.

Except, again, no.

Diversity is not the same as Inclusion. Don’t assume that people want their differences erased in order to be part of the group.[2]

Let’s go back to basic definitions.

Diversity : I am going to highlight an Australian corporate examples[3]. Why PwC? Because they are currently #1 on Pride in Diversity’s Equality Index[4].

PwC Australia

Enhancing our diversity and inclusion is a critical part of PwC Australia’s vision, values and strategy. We believe that fostering inclusion, promoting broad perspectives and driving diverse career opportunities for our people will enable us to create a distinctive experience for our clients and create better outcomes for society.[5]

Diversity is one of our CEO’s seven key priorities. In July 2014 we appointed the firm’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a position that sits on the PwC Australia’s Executive Board. We also have an external Diversity Advisory Board comprised of six leading diversity experts from the marketplace, as well as our CEO and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

Here is an example of how to get it right, and then so very wrong. Let’s start with the fluff- yes, we know diversity is important, bonus points for mentioning and singling out inclusion as equally important and not the same as diversity. That as an opening statement is fine.

But, next paragraph down-

We have publically announced two targets:

  • from 1 July 2015, a minimum of 40% women and 40% men making up our future partner admits. The remaining 20% can be either men or women.
  • by 2016, at least of 20% of our partner admits will be from a diverse cultural background, rising to 30% by 2020.


Right away, straight back to the original problem I stated above. PwC’s ‘approach’ can appear from an outsiders’ view to simply shoehorn people from the right boxes into roles, with no other forethoughts or consideration, so they can reel off a statistic.

We have publically announced two targets:

  • from 1 July 2015, a minimum of 40% women and 40% men making up our future partner admits. The remaining 20% can be either men or women.
  • by 2016, at least of 20% of our partner admits will be from a diverse cultural background, rising to 30% by 2020.


And another round of stats and figures.

What about inclusion? How do they support these individuals that they slot into their organisation? How do they foster an environment where these people will be accepted and respected? Furthermore, how to they ensure that the candidate is a ‘best fit’ for the role, and not just a number to boost a statistic on a board report?

Example- some may recognize the name Mark Allaby. He is an executive at PwC, and was also for a time a board member of the Australian Christian Lobby, an organisation that does not support diversity or inclusion whatsoever. When called on the conflict, Allaby stepped down from his position on the ACL’s board, and the situation seemed resolved.

How many more Mark Allabys are lurking, however, in the upper echelons of PwC? How many managers are making daily decisions based on their own personal moral compass, rather than company policy?

PwC says that 20% must be from a diverse cultural background, does that mean they can freely decline any further applications irrespective of merit once that benchmark is set? What if 80% of the candidates for a role or department that are the best fit are all from the same cultural background? Do you start firing some to make way for other backgrounds, because diversity?

Of course not. And this is where Inclusion becomes the buzzword that corporations should be chasing. Forcing workplaces to accept that 40% of jobs must go to x or y person irrespective of qualifications, experience or ability simply fosters an environment of resentment and is incredibly demoralizing. Additionally, the person shoehorned into that role is going to have an incredibly rough time of it.

There are several steps in achieving this goal, that of course include recruiting people from diverse backgrounds in the first place (which most companies have already admirably covered in their diversity policies)


Step One- Seek Diversity. As mentioned, this is generally well covered by many major players in Australia’s corporate sphere. Essentially, you want a good, strong, flexible diversity policy that actively seeks to engage with people from diverse backgrounds, and to invite them to bring their skills, talents and abilities into your workplace.

Step Two- Overcome Bias. Bias is where the problems begin, and no diversity policy I have read actively or sufficiently targets this particular elephant in the room. Bias can be conscious (I hate prawns) or unconscious (for some reason prawns make me uncomfortable) and in virtually all cases is driven by external influence, much of it beginning in childhood.

Step Three- Foster Inclusion. If you are going to go to all the time and effort of recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, you owe it to both your shareholders and yourself to make them feel included!

There are important factors to consider in this piece. When promoting inclusion in your workplace, you need to remember that

  1. People are not inherently bigoted or hateful. These behaviours are learned, and can be unlearned
  2. People who disagree with you are not inherently evil or immoral. This is a matter of perspective, and can also be negotiated
  3. People from diverse backgrounds do not generally expect ‘special’ treatment- they simply want to be treated the same as everyone else
  4. No matter how hard it gets at times, it is worth it. The benefits of a happy, healthy, functioning diverse workplace that fosters active inclusion are immeasurable (though I do try in the appendices!)

It is important to recognize out the outset that everyone holds biases, both conscious and unconscious (implicit social cognition)[6]. This bias permeates every interaction we have, every day of our lives, both professional and personal.

It is also important to acknowledge that bias isn’t inherently wrong or ‘evil’. This is particularly true of unconscious bias. Bias exists, but it exists on its own terms, and does not automatically imply that the holder of that bias is somehow broken or wrong, and nor is it something that would be universally condemned as bad by mainstream society.

But it is, nonetheless, a bias. A person who displays deliberate bias towards social policies that advance the underprivileged ahead of big business is still demonstrating a bias, the same as someone who is biased against people of a specific race or culture.

People who hold biases (ie, all of us) do not usually recognize that they hold a bias. People generally like to think that they are ‘free’ from bigoted or prejudicial behaviours, and fall into what is referred to as the Bias Blind Spot[7].

““People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers”

This poses the first significant challenge in overcoming bias-

They also found that people with a high bias blind spot are those most likely to ignore the advice of peers or experts, and are least likely to learn from de-biasing training that could improve the quality of their decisions.

If people don’t realize they are being biased, and have no idea how it affects others, then the challenge of dealing with bias becomes proportionately more difficult.

The initial step is to not associate a person’s character, suitability or worth with any biases they may hold, conscious or unconscious. A bias can be learned, or taught, and over time can be unlearned, and adjusted. It is not an easy process, however, and has not been successfully resolved in full in any existing research[8].

Once you can separate the bias from the person, you have achieved an important first step in working to overcome it. I do not wish to use terms as ‘remove’ or ‘eliminate’ bias, because that is impossible. I also want to try and avoid labelling any bias as good or bad, but will rather defer to what I term detrimental bias.

But, I have said that it hasn’t yet been successfully resolved by any workplace that can prove it? What you can do in the meantime though, is tackle calling out biases in your workplace, and work towards resolving them to the point that they are not a detrimental bias.

A number of excellent articles are immediately available with tips and tricks on how to tackle this growing problem that accompanies diversity policies[9]. At the core, the ideal response, aside from encouraging the employee to acknowledge and challenge their own bias is ensuring that it doesn’t impact the inclusion of other employees. I will step through this process below, for both types of bias.

Firstly, with conscious bias, we have a clear demonstration of detrimental bias that has an objective source. If an employee loudly and clearly proclaims that they don’t like gays, or don’t believe women should be managers, then the bias is clear and pronounced, is demonstrably prejudicial, and should in most cases be adequately covered by existing workplace codes of conduct governing such behaviours.

In short, they’d be disciplined or fired. Knowing this, holders of conscious bias are far less likely in the modern workforce to openly state such beliefs, but this should not ever be used as a basis for any assumption that they no longer hold them. As I discussed in the chapter on Exclusion, a common form of bullying, people will conceal conscious bias through subtle action that cannot be readily or easily proven to be prejudicial.

The obvious trap some fall into is to therefore assume that everyone in the workplace is bigoted and loaded with detrimental bias, and subject everyone to the same treatment. This tendency to lump everyone in the same basket is a common mistake amongst corporate HR departments, and normally occurs because it is simply easier to blame everyone than to single out individuals and open the door for potential counter-complaints.

The result of this is the company wide workshops and talks that most of the readers here have experienced during their working lives. Call everyone into a room, tell them that hating black people is bad, and that they need to stop doing it right now. Everyone signs a form, proving they heard the talk, and goes back to work.

Result- absolutely nothing. If anything, calling people on bias they may not necessarily hold can in fact create bias where none previously existed!

“If the shoe fits…”

Inserting a number of new employees from diverse backgrounds into a workplace and then lecturing them about why they need to ‘tolerate’ these new employees because it’s the law does absolutely nothing. In fact, the most extreme result of such attempts to foster diversity result in the rise of people like Donald Trump. People will cheerfully rally to support someone who calls out what they see as ‘bullying’, as they grow weary of constantly being labelled ‘bigots’ by people who make no effort to actively reach out and understand them.

Instead, the best way to approach conscious bias is to challenge such beliefs through shared experience. In a fascinating new study, researchers found that even a very brief encounter, face to face and personal, with a member of a minority group can substantially reduce bias against that group[10].

In light of influential theories that depict prejudiced attitudes as highly durable and resistant to change, it is surprising that brief personal interactions with strangers could markedly and enduringly reduce prejudice in a field setting. Rigorous field research has seldom documented brief interventions capable of producing large and lasting reductions in prejudice, leading the present results to represent a rare challenge to these theories.

Following on from this, a simple and highly effective tactic you could attempt in your own workplace is to have a program that actively encourages members of diverse groups to meet with employees and share their stories and experiences, rather than lecturing from the corporate HR pulpit. It is critical that members of these communities be allowed to tell their own stories, however, and not through the mouth of a HR representative.

Queensland Rail, for example, includes a section in their weekly notice and on their employee web portal called ‘Step into my Shoes’

“The ‘Step Into My Shoes’ initiative was recently launched to provide an opportunity to increase our awareness and appreciation of the diverse cultures and experiences of Queensland Rail staff. The response to this initiative has been fantastic and the stories shared by staff have been inspiring and eye opening.”

This terrific initiative allows employees from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to tell their own stories, directly to their peers, and to in turn field comments and questions from their peers about their experiences, in a positive, non-confrontational manner. The results of this (which can be substantiated with research referenced earlier) are to create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their identities, and communicating it to their peers, and their peers can find relatable shared experiences in the story that foster an environment of inclusion[11].

This can also help address unconscious bias, when done correctly. Rather than assuming everyone holds unconscious bias, even if they do, instead simply take the time to educate and promote mutual respect through programs like the above.

Another great tactic to tackle unconscious bias is to demonstrate it with actual real life examples. This was achieved incredibly well with the ‘Racism in the Elevator’ short on Youtube[12]. This was a great example of unconscious bias which is the result of learned behaviour, influenced by racist stereotypes in the media. When mainstream media outlets engage in demonstrable behaviour that powerfully influences unconscious and conscious bias, such as over reporting crime with black perpetrators as a proportion of actual arrests, then these behaviours are spread[13].

Closer to home, we see similar examples with the bias against low income earners and the unemployed, perpetrated by both the government and mainstream media outlets in Australia[14]. Bias against economically disadvantaged groups is just as detrimental as bias against other marginalised groups, and can create considerable barriers to these individuals re-entering the workforce. In fact, I have devoted a whole chapter to workforce integration for these groups later on.

Beyond Blue launched a successful awareness campaign with a video highlighting a combination of conscious and unconscious bias that is harmful to the mental health and self esteem of indigenous members of the community[15]. While the powerful message resonated with many, the criticisms that also accompanied the video were largely fuelled by a resentment from the mainstream community that they were all inherently racist.

This damaging retort to any anti-discrimination movements is also firmly encapsulated in the feminism movement, resulting in the #notallmen hashtag becoming a common reference to the situation.

Example- a woman posts a story about her rape. A man immediately responds, angrily crying out that ‘not all men’ are rapists.

Same story with the Beyond Blue video. Comments followed with posters crying out how they weren’t racists, they found the insinuation offensive.

That’s the problem with unconscious bias. Many people don’t even realize they are biased or hold bigoted or prejudicial views. Worse, the mainstream media knows this all too well; psychologists are as frequently consulted as marketing consultants in many major media and advertising firms.

Playing to a person’s unconscious bias is the bread and butter of so-called ‘clickbait’ media organisations. This is especially pervasive in a climate where terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence somewhere in the world, where racial and cultural unrest is climbing rapidly, where homophobia and transphobia is boiling to the surface in marriage equality debates and the furore around bathrooms in the USA.

How does this relate to the workplace?

You can see how easy it is to trigger unconscious bias through targeted media and advertising, playing to people’s base prejudices, that everyone holds. The trick is, however, how to reverse that. We discussed the ‘step into their shoes’ type campaigns, as employed by some companies.

However, the goal here is to also seek to alleviate the anger that people feel when they think they are being unfairly accused of being bigoted or exhibiting bias. Rare is the person in the modern workforce who is proudly racist or sexist. “I’m not racist but…” is a common trope seen in social media.

A first priority should be to let people explore their own biases in a private setting, where only they are privy to the results. This eliminates much of the same that can be associated with having a bias or prejudice exposed. And shaming someone for their beliefs is not conducive to a positive outcome, despite how tempting it may be!

This can be achieved via an Implicit Associations test[16]. Remember the videos linked above discussing unconscious bias held against people of colour or indigenous people? These are far more prevalent amongst white westerners than any of us feel comfortable admitting. This is well recognized by other ethnic groups, which is why they say things like “All whites are racist”, and while this creates anger and frustration, it is not without its merits.

Of course, no one likes to think they are a bigot, even the most bigoted people online go to great lengths to stress how not-bigoted they are, how they aren’t prejudiced at all. So the inherent assumption in modern society is that bigotry is bad. That is one battle won.

The second battle is to point out to people in a non-confrontational way that they hold hidden prejudices that result in bias in the workplace. It is a well documented occurrence in recruitment and HR departments.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission has said there is a growing trend of immigrants adopting Western names in the hope it will get them hired.

“There are still elements of race discrimination in employment. It is certainly present and problematic,” Disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes told HC.”[17]

This is a bias that could be conscious or unconscious, but exists nonetheless and is detrimental to the effectiveness of the recruitment process in identifying the best candidate. A great idea to combat this is being trialled in Victoria now (in May 2016).

For the first time in Australia, the Victorian government will trial removing personal details – such as name, gender, age and location – from job applications to rule out discrimination or unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias – when hidden beliefs or attitudes influence our behaviour – has long been a bugbear for those championing workplace diversity.[18]

This absolutely brilliant approach would enable a candidate to at least get a foot in the door without being shot down by biased recruitment agencies or HR departments, where discrimination is rife.

Unconscious bias in recruiting remains a problem. A 2010 paper found that to attain as many interviews as an Anglo job applicant, an Italian person must submit 12% more job applications, an Indigenous person 35%, a Middle Eastern person 64%, and a Chinese person 68% more[19].

As discussed earlier, a direct face-to-face meeting with someone from a diverse background is a terrific counter to bias, and if you combine this with the blind recruitment process, you have a way to introduce businesses to diverse candidates without being able to make prior prejudicial decisions, instead being forced to actually meet and talk with the candidates and learn about them as a person, not a racial or sexual statistic, for example.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianbailey/2014/05/20/why-we-should-prioritize-the-i-in-d-and-i/#2993ff5a77ee

[2] https://hbr.org/2014/08/whos-being-left-out-on-your-team/

[3] As a side note- the problem with our neat little categorisation system is that you always run the risk of excluding someone for some reason, when you become trapped by your own wording. My suggestion would be to never ‘list out’ all the types of backgrounds diversity covers; simply say ‘all of them’

[4] http://www.prideindiversity.com.au/

[5] http://www.pwc.com.au/about-us/diversity-and-inclusion.html

[6] http://archive.boston.com/news/science/blogs/science-in-mind/2013/02/05/everyone-biased-harvard-professor-work-reveals-barely-know-our-own-minds/7x5K4gvrvaT5d3vpDaXC1K/blog.html

[7] http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/june/bias-blind-spot.html

[8] http://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianbailey/2014/08/14/can-you-overcome-inbuilt-bias/#1397877637ef

[9] Example piece from The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/dec/14/recognise-overcome-unconscious-bias

[10] http://www.citylab.com/navigator/2016/04/a-10-minute-face-to-face-conversation-can-reduce-prejudice/477507/

[11] For further reading on inclusion http://www.aperianglobal.com/leaders-diversity-inclusion-5-lessons-top-global-companies/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfjLfyXYlA

[13] http://mediamatters.org/research/2015/03/23/report-new-york-city-television-stations-contin/202553

[14] https://newmatilda.com/2016/03/05/malcolm-turnbull-escalates-his-war-on-the-poor-and-unemployed/

[15] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvTyI41PvTk

[16] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-practice/201508/6-ways-overcome-your-biases-good

[17] http://www.hcamag.com/hr-news/hr-overlooks-applicants-with-nonwestern-names-128853.aspx

[18] http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3918532/wanted-no-age-no-name-no-gender/?cs=80

[19] http://www.themandarin.com.au/65306-name-blind-recruiting-to-undo-unconscious-bias-in-victoria/



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