What diversity means in the workplace

Team spirit in the workplace

Written By: Joyce E.A. Russell  1/9/15

There has been a lot of talk among the various US presidential candidates about diversity – everything from which people we should value all the way to who we should deport or build a wall to keep out.

These comments raise discussions about the broader questions of diversity and inclusion. All of us have a perspective on this – what we mean by diversity and the extent we believe we “should” be inclusive. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on diversity and inclusion given for employees at the Robert H. Smith School of Business where we tackled the question: “What is meant by diversity and inclusion and why are they important today?”

We often define diversity in terms of differences among people in race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability, personality, socioeconomic status, education, among many other things. Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to giving people voice and representation and valuing their views. An inclusive culture is one that is seen as a collaborative environment that appreciates the unique contributions people bring.

We could all speak to whether we find our own work organisations, political parties, or presidential candidates’ messages inclusive. Do we feel that our views are or would be valued, even if they were very different from those in power? If yes, then we feel the reception is inclusive. If no, then we may feel devalued. This is pretty important to employees just like it is to voters.

In fact, research by Deloitte found that 83 percent of millennial employees were actively engaged when they believed that their organisation fosters an inclusive culture. They want their work to be valued, they want to be recognised for their work, and they want to feel that what they are doing is having an impact. This can only happen if their leaders and colleagues take the time to listen to employees’ insights and make them feel that their ideas are being heard. We care about employees’ level of engagement because we know from research by Gallup that disengaged employees often results in lost productivity. Disengaged employees are actively looking for something better, just as disengaged voters are.

An inclusive culture brings out the various talents, passions and strengths of employees. Inclusive cultures foster risk-taking and innovation by employees because they believe they can try things out, and that their ideas will be heard. Contrast that with situations where you know you will not be listened to: You eventually stop offering your creative ideas. You unplug and become disengaged.

So, how do you know if you have an inclusive culture for employees or an inclusive perspective for voters? Measure it. Look at employee engagement surveys. Look at data on the diversity of your employee or voter base. How representative is it? Look at the diversity of your new-employee pipelines as well as those at the senior levels of your firm or administration. Review your turnover rates for various populations. If you see that you seem to be losing more women, then perhaps there is a reason for it. Sometimes clues can be found in the language people use. Does it turn off some employees or voters? Does it cater to some populations more than others?

Just like today’s leaders will need to build diverse workplaces in order to meet the needs and demands of diverse consumers, so too will today’s presidential hopefuls need to understand the views and perspectives of diverse potential voters. And you can’t just proclaim that you are inclusive. You have to measure other people’s perceptions of you. Don’t worry – they will tell you.

*Russell is the senior associate dean of learning at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program. She is a licensed industrial and organisational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at

Source: IOL Lifestyle



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