How the Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion Makes Us Less Inclusive

Can we put to rest this notion of diversity and inclusion as being all about the business? Once the calling card of the private sector, this myth has slowly crept into the public sector and reinforced a transactional engagement model that makes diversity and inclusion all about the work we do.

This overemphasis on the business case for diversity and inclusion has placed too much importance on the diversity side of the equation. Understanding differences may get diverse employees in the door. Understanding those differences will keep them from leaving. As Albert Einstein said, making heads count is important than just counting heads. While the business case may deliver diversity, it does not guarantee that the diversity mix is working in an inclusive way. In other words, the business case for diversity and inclusion has to be more about our people than the business itself.

The argument for diversity and inclusion should be first and foremost the right thing to do for our employees and customers. It has to be less about transacting the work and more about transforming the way we do the work.

The business case for diversity and inclusion is grounded on two assumptions. The first rule defines our workplaces as being solely about accomplishments, achievements of goals and the ultimate delivery of results. The second belief suggests that as we complete our work, it has to be managed, designed, measured and evaluated. While these are all vital and important drivers of productivity in the workplace, it leaves out the most important thing about our work–relationships.

At the end of the day, the quality of one’s experiences in relating to colleagues, customers and the organization is the biggest influence on getting the work done while serving diverse clientele and embracing the differences of the people doing the work.

Here are two examples of how the business case for inclusion and the people case for inclusion manifested themselves in my career.

I had an African American employee come to me during lunchtime and asked if I wanted to join him on 30-minute jog. The whole experience for me had a task approach to it from beginning to end.

We were both focused on efficient performance. We each had clear roles that did not require a lot of thought or strategy. He was in his lane and I was in mine. We each did our part in the activity and no more. We mutually brought diversity to the activity. The question is why did this excursion in diversity not feel more inclusive? The answer is because it was rooted in a task approach about the work.

Compare my jogging experience with my endeavor with a Hispanic co-worker as we were matched up as partners in a three-legged race as part of a team building exercise. In this activity, I felt more engaged, motivated and connected to my colleague. We had to embrace each other’s differences. We confronted complexity as we matched our strongest legs together to play to our strengths as we competed. It felt like more of a common experience.

As opposed to the experience with my African American colleague, where only our individual boats rose in the harbor through getting through a task. My time with my Hispanic partner caused all individual boats to rise in the harbor through more of an embracing change pursuit.

Let’s face it. Diversity and inclusion are changing. It used to about the compliance case–something that the law forces us to do. It later morphed into the business case–the smart thing to do for our business. At the end of day, diversity and inclusion have to be about doing the right thing for our people. Not something that we are told to do. Not something that is about just what we do but something that we do because we want to do it.

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