What Is Diversity? What Is Inclusion?

A new study finds that while organizations agree on the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I), most have difficulty defining diversity and explaining inclusion.

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Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading global executive search and leadership advisory firm, surveyed more than 2,100 male and female executives around the world to understand how companies align around D&I, how executives perceive their organization’s D&I strategy, and the barriers they face in executing it effectively.

Definitions Required

The success of a D&I strategy is primarily dependent on committed leadership, the study finds. However, it also points to a need to elevate inclusion to the importance of diversity.
Fewer than half (47 percent) of executives surveyed say that their organizations have a clear, holistic understanding of diversity, but the number drops even further when looking at inclusion. Only 24 percent of executives say they are aware of a definition of inclusion.
Russell Reynolds Associates defines “inclusion” as the establishment of an environment that creates opportunities for all employees to realize their unique potential. An inclusive culture is what unleashes the power of diversity and instills a sense of belonging, which is the extent to which individuals feel they can be their authentic selves within the organization.
The study defines “diversity” as a number of attributes including gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, veteran status, political affiliation, education, experience, work style, communication style, socioeconomic background, cross-cultural competency, and perspective.

Recognizing the Importance

Although the study shows that senior executives realize the importance of D&I—74 percent believe D&I is crucial to the success of their organization—only 50 percent say their leaders make a visible effort to support D&I. Even fewer (38 percent) say their leaders hold themselves accountable to create inclusive cultures. More than a quarter (27 percent) of executives surveyed say their company has no D&I strategy at all.
Overall, the survey finds that despite the general consensus that D&I is important, company strategy and leadership commitment fail to position their organizations to realize the full benefits of their diverse workforce. Yet companies that have committed leaders experience more effective and successful D&I agendas.

Taking a Proactive Approach

“Companies with a proactive and authentic approach are better positioned to compete globally, understand their customers, and innovate,” says Jamie Hechinger, one of the leaders of the Diversity and Inclusion Practice and global leader of the Social Justice and Advocacy Practice.
Russell Reynolds Associates recommends six critical steps for leaders when creating a comprehensive D&I strategy:

  • Step 1: Agree on the Meaning of D&I. Ensure that all executives understand the organization’s specific definition of diversity and inclusion so that they can act as informed advocates.
  • Step 2: Develop a D&I Strategy. Establish a D&I strategy to fully realize human capital benefits, such as increased employee engagement and creativity.
  • Step 3: Publicly Commit to D&I. Transparently commit to D&I and hold leadership accountable for results.
  • Step 4: Use D&I to Attract Top Talent. Demonstrate commitment to D&I to attract top talent, which is increasingly seeking out companies that “walk the walk.”
  • Step 5: Incorporate D&I into Talent Strategy. Understand how the absence of an overarching process or strategy will ultimately obstruct talent attraction, development, and retention.
  • Step 6: Lead by Example. Personify the organization’s D&I agenda and philosophy to influence others to do the same.

“Our new research shows that in spite of the clear advantages of committing to a D&I strategy, many companies still struggle to execute it effectively. In order to ensure real progress toward these goals, leaders need to evaluate policy and processes, and be public in modeling inclusive behaviors,” says Amy Hayes, a leader of the Diversity and Inclusion, Assessment and Succession Planning Practices.

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