Is Inclusion the New Diversity?
Much of my work is centered on helping organizations understand what diversity means to them and how they can integrate and implement the principles and practices of diversity into their day-to-day operations. It’s a huge topic to address and I applaud any organization that is willing to invest and engage in the process. But lately, I have been hearing comments like this - “I know diversity has been the topic of the past, but the correct term in our field these days is inclusion. It’s the new diversity.”
This got me to think about the meaning of these terms, both obvious and hidden. “Diversity” to me implies different and separate, coming from the same root word as “divide.” To be diverse means to acknowledge and hopefully embrace our differences while we try to live and work together. Unfortunately, I find too many organizations that are only willing to acknowledge diversity by coordinating the required training and checking the box. While it is relatively easy to acknowledge diversity, it is difficult to embrace and furthermore integrate it into our organizations.
And then there is the baggage that comes along with diversity. One participant at a training recently wrote, “I feel diversity is viewed by some as a kind of organizational scold – there to make you feel guilty and obligated to disavow the history of bad deeds perpetrated by ‘your group’ whom you somehow represent.” Another person commented on the mindset that one has to be “different to be diverse.” With issues like these related to diversity, I can well understand why some might want to find a new term.
“Inclusion” to me implies similarities and a common place. It creates a tone that says there is room for everyone at the table and a focus on unity instead of separateness. For some, it seems less confrontational and perhaps more forward looking. What I find really interesting is that the people who typically utilize the language of inclusion are of European-American descent. When the person (who was a newly hired executive and of European-American descent) made the “it’s the new diversity” comment, she got quite a bit of pushback from the people of color in the room. And so began the debate.
I suggested to them that while it is important to be clear on their terms and motivations (diversity vs. inclusion in this case), they must remain focused on the bigger picture of what they are working toward, which is equity and social justice. I believe that if organizations are working toward equity and social justice, they need to focus on both diversity and inclusion.
We need to acknowledge and embrace our differences while focusing on unity and making space at the table for everyone. And though it is a relatively simple concept, it is going to take all of us to engage in the process. I for one could not imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
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