And yes, when I read inclusion, I knew it meant diversity.
It’s a trend to talk about inclusion and diversity almost interchangeably, while they are not the same thing. Inclusion is about including others in a decision, team, and practice in order to make sure our ideas are shared and teams are working cohesively. Diversity is about having a representation of people from different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientation, or among many other groups who historically are often marginalized. To be clear—these would be members of our society who have historically had little power.
Having worked at two organizations where I framed social justice and gender equality discussions, I know I bring my own framework to this conversation and sat quietly observing.
The session primarily focused on inclusion while acknowledging the intersections to diversity. When the session opened for questions, most were about challenges: no top leadership buy-in, ineffective results in attracting diverse applicants, disconnected teams and resentment; others talked about the success of their diversity luncheons, how they have made their marketing materials more reflective of their community. Many others had questions about just getting started.
That same week we memorialized the men and women who, 50 years ago marched on “Bloody Sunday,” from Selma to Montgomery, and we also were bombarded with footage of the University of Oklahoma local Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity racist chants.
Just a week prior, the Department of Justice released a report on the practices of Ferguson Police Department that stated, “Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities.”
And yesterday, Starbucks and USA Today wrapped up its controversial new initiative Race Together that asked their partners to write “Race Together” on their coffee cup as way to initiate a conversation with others about race and diversity in America. The initiative included an eight-page toolkit featuring statistics, a quiz and a very tame and awkward list of conversation starters. Starbucks received criticism about the approach, mostly questioning Starbuck’s role in the conversation at all and others who go so far to say they feared for the safety of the partners who are having this discussion.
I applaud their efforts, just like my colleagues who compared their own diversity initiative notes in a session about inclusion. But I’m not sure either of these approaches will really support social change. Starbucks/USA Today’s initiative was strangely executed and lasted only a few days and it was obvious from my colleagues’ discussion that it’s hard not to see diversity initiatives as just that: initiatives—projects that have start and end points and are just another bullet on a to do list.
Creating a workplace and an America where diversity is truly celebrated is a journey.
It is an individual journey that asks us to be aware of our own prejudices and challenge ourselves to accept others who are different. It is also an organizational journey that will demand bold leaders who will acknowledge and explore diversity as a process, needing support and nurture from the highest leadership in the organization and the realization that it cannot be addressed solely by initiatives with expiration dates.