Inclusion and diversity, these two words are fashionable. You only need to enter them in a search engine to find out that many companies, large or small, regardless of where they’re located, say they implement diversity and inclusion policies. But the mention of these “policies” sometimes sounds hollow. So what exactly are we talking about?
What do inclusion and diversity mean?
The notion of diversity is undoubtedly the most widespread, and this is not a new issue. Historically called a policy of parity, or social openness, the concept of diversity has today largely replaced these more dated synonyms. In the 1980s and 1990s, a certain number of diversity criteria were established: disability, gender, social and cultural origins, sexual orientation, age and generation, religious affiliation, appearance, etc.
If diversity is about the characteristics above then inclusion is about how people with these characteristics are integrated and supported in the workplace.
The notion of inclusion is also fairly recent. The discourse on the consideration of differences, equal opportunities and the sharing of spaces, opportunities and responsibilities has in recent years seen the notion of inclusion become more widespread.
What is the real motivation behind inclusion and diversity policies?
Is it an ethical or moral will? Does it respond to a legal constraint? Or is there an economic and rational interest behind it?
A wide range of literature has demonstrated the value of these policies: from large consultancy firms that have shown that companies with high diversity perform better financially, to more academic studies that have analysed the constitution of popular juries in the United States and have shown that when the juries were made up of both men and women, with different religious or ethnic orientations, legal decisions were made more efficiently and with less bias. Not forgetting certain economic currents of thought (notably by Stuart Mills) which have quantified the cost of exclusion, and have therefore worked to prove the value of such inclusive policies.
So, if the value of inclusion and diversity is no longer an issue, why is it still an issue? Why is it so difficult? Have companies really done what is necessary to make it work?
Diversity without inclusion doesn’t work!
Over the past decade, many companies (banks and consulting firms in particular) have tried to recruit women as a priority, followed by members of the LGBTQ community, internationals, and more recently, people with disabilities. And they are now finding that their policies have not really worked. They have focused on diversity and forgotten about inclusion.
If we take the oldest example, today women are no more present on the boards of directors of large listed companies. Too few women are general managers. As of 2019, in the European Union, only one manager out of 3 was a woman. The glass ceiling is still there. These results are the same for all the categories mentioned above.
The examples speak for themselves: diversity without inclusion does not work. As Ilham Kadri, Solvay’s General Manager, explained at the annual conference of the Women’s Forum: “The important thing is to work on our capacity to be inclusive even before we bring diversity. If you don’t listen to diversity, it leaves you and usually, the best people leave.”
How many women or people of color are now questioning their recruitment? Were they recruited for their skills or because the business needed to meet a certain ratio? Inclusion is much more complicated to implement than diversity, which is often initiated by quota systems. These same quotas and diversity policies can sometimes be perceived as discriminatory and are still the subject of much debate today.
Inclusion cannot be achieved on its own. The organisation must be ready to include the bearers of diversity at the level of systems, management and culture. An inclusive corporate culture must be created through practices shared by all.
To be inclusive is to be . . .
What is inclusive management? How to avoid falling into the intersectionality of struggles? The answer to these questions is not obvious and perhaps even unrealistic because it would require too much effort. To be inclusive is to be open-minded and to be able to accept that other forms of thinking than your own may be of interest. It is also about humility, accepting the idea that the other person, even if they think differently, can bring something to the table. It means knowing how to get out of your comfort zone and accepting to be challenged by others.
Interpersonal relationships with people who think, look and act like you are obviously comfortable. No need for subtitles when all the interlocutors have the same codes. But this is a serious hindrance to creativity and the future of business.