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  • Kamran Mashayekh

Why do Diversity Initiatives Fail? They lack Inclusion.

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

The clarion call to action for increasing diversity trumpets louder each day in society and all mediums of everyday life. The need for diversity, particularly in education and in business, occupies an essential place in American national dialogue. Diversity in all walks of life, including ethnic, gender, religious, and socioeconomic factors, should be seen in our schools, universities, and business teams. Diverse teams have positive benefits for businesses and students. However, diversity programs can only be successful when stakeholders couple them with an active focus on inclusion. Diversity without active inclusion is ineffective.


Why Focus on Inclusion?

Why must inclusion be active to maximize the benefits of having a “diverse” workplace or student body? The connotation of diversity denotes that individuals possess innate traits (be it cultural, social, religious, racial, physical), behaviors, and ideas that are unique and come from their life experiences. Unfortunately, many businesses and education organizations attempt to recruit individuals to diversify their teams but do not go further in making sure that those individuals feel like they are part of the workplace culture. In her Harvard Business Review article, Karen Brown discusses her findings from three different employee retention studies focusing on inclusion. In an example from law firm Baker McKenzie, Brown explains how her team found that while women were 52 percent of the firm’s staff attorneys, they were less than 25 percent of partners. She discovered that systemic issues were why women did not become or desire to become partners. Inclusion requires an understanding of the specific and unique issues facing different types of individuals and using methods to provide for and ensure their acceptance in your workplace or school district.


How Bias Influences Inclusion

Another vital aspect of integrating inclusion into diversity programs is to understand how bias can influence all aspects of a person’s job performance, from hiring to employee evaluations. First, there is a clear recognition and acknowledgment that a diverse workforce may contain elements of either conscious or subconscious bias exists in all team members. (Teaching Tolerance has a useful tool that helps students, teachers, and stakeholders test their bias.) How can perceived bias impact your team members? For example, in a recent study, a third of respondents with disabilities mentioned experiencing negative bias because of their disability.These comments imply that employees or even students with disabilities are not included or valued in their work environments. It is not hard to imagine how this can affect hiring and promotion decisions.


How to Integrate Inclusion

To make inclusion active in our diversity programs, our task becomes one of addressing

the biases with candor, transparency, and frankness. In a recent article discussing work culture issues in a prominent sports apparel business, Forbes contributor Janice Gassam describes four ways companies can improve their approach to inclusion including open conversations about workplace climate and including inclusion practices into business goals. Another means of producing a more inclusive atmosphere is to form teams that reflect the diversity of your employees. Having group members in open conversation with each other and developing professional relationships with team members who are different contributes to a more understanding and accepting workplace. It is also necessary, when possible, to debunk biases through educating the members of the team with accurate empirical data. Truth and veracity of data can help counter conscious and unconscious biases in the workplace.


How Houston Schools Practice Diversity and Inclusion

Houston’s population is a portrait of diversity. Over 28 percent of Houstonians are foreign-born representing dozens of nationalities, and its residents speak over 100 different languages. It is one of the most diverse cities in America and is home to the Houston Independent School District, the largest district in Texas. The Houston area school districts represent a milieu of different nationalities, backgrounds, religions, and dialects. In my experience as an education advocate and community member, it is noteworthy how Houston area school districts show a profound appreciation for the diversity of its students. Districts celebrate diversity and infuse inclusion by sponsoring events such as “International Day,” whereby all the diverse backgrounds and nationalities of its student body are shared as students wearing the customary dress of their native heritage or students share cuisine that is indigenous to their culture.


Conclusions

Business and educational diversity programs are important but need to include a means of

promoting inclusion. As business owners and community members, we want our employees and neighbors to feel included and comfortable in their environment. Inclusion is how those feelings develop. Open discussions, recognizing issues in workplace culture, and celebrating the various backgrounds and abilities of individuals is how we can make diversity sustainable and how we can enjoy its benefits.

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