Diversity and Inclusion in Plain English

In discussions about diversity and inclusion, definitions can be muddled. It’s safe to say that most people have a general idea of what “D&I” really means; something along the lines of fairness, equality, and treating people well regardless of their identity.

However, this definition is outdated.

Millennials see things differently

A 2015 Deloitte study on millennials asked about diversity and inclusion, and the results were staggering. Unlike their Gen X or Gen Y counterparts, who viewed diversity and inclusion as about being fair or focusing on equity in representation, millennials are comparatively savage. For them, diversity and inclusion is about performance on the job. Period. They believe their different identities are necessary at work, and are more likely to defer to one another’s lived experiences when making work decisions.

This leads to the strong belief of millennials that their identity is integral to their performance on the job. So an employer needs to understand what their identity means – their gender, their race, their sexuality, their ability, their ethnic origin, etc. – not because it’s fair, but because understanding your employees is how you get the best work out of them.

Stemming from that, a new definition of diversity and inclusion is necessary in the working world.

Diversity is about finding the best employees.

Inclusion is about creating an environment where employees only have to worry about the task at hand.

A new talent equation

In the “War for talent”, the company with the best people win. However, “best” is defined not only through intelligence, but through work ethic, niche experiences, and diverse perspectives. Employers need to look beyond flashy resumes and look at:

  • Skillsets: Can someone feasibly do the tasks required of the job?
  • Merit: One’s personality, traits, and general disposition for the role
  • Fit: One’s diversity on the team, how their merits and skills complement, strengthen, and encourage growth in the current working environment

Old practices around diversity and inclusion looked at “diversity” as a checking a box to ensure representation. The new talent equation sees diversity as a necessary part of a candidate’s overall fit for the organization, since bringing unique perspectives is required for innovative organizations. Every candidate fits into this description because every possible identity, education, and life background is needed to better understand a changing world.

Inclusion is an attitude and a practice

As organizations grow to take on more and more of our lives – truly, “work-life integration” has taken over from “work-life balance” – inclusion is less about being nice to people and more about creating environments where an employee only has to focus on the task at hand.

Ironically, this is achieved by organizations facilitating and supporting non-work activities. Startups have paved the way in this arena, offering break rooms and other perks of employment like gyms, games rooms, and free food or alcohol. There are many debates about the efficacy of these specific tactics, but the reality is that these organizations are doing what many won’t: believe not only that their employees are people but also believe employees should be people at work, not just at home.

Help many, hinder none

In the diversity and inclusion space, this means organizing and supporting different pillars of identity. Many larger corporations have caught onto this trend, and have started throwing Pride parties for their LGBT employees, celebrating International Women’s Day, or acknowledging ancestral Indigenous lands when breaking ground on a new building or opening a new office. These types of events have next to no impact on the employees who do not identify as members of, or strong allies to, a given community, but for members of the community it makes all the difference.

It might seems small or insignificant, but the reality of feeling understood is what drives work performance, particularly for millennials. Going to work knowing that they can be exactly who they are without worry of ramifications is a driver for bringing your best to work. This, of course, ties to the bottom line: LGBT people are 10-30% less productive when closeted at work, and another Deloitte study recently identified the costs of “covering” – hiding or ignoring your identity at work – and realized that it has substantial negative effects on employee engagement, productivity, and sales efforts.


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