Why Diversity And Inclusion Are Not The Same Thing

“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.”
— Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, author and speaker

Diversity and inclusion are key drivers of organizational innovation and positive financial performance. Both terms have become well-known, so much so that they are often used interchangeably — but they are actually two very different things.

Diversity represents the presence of differences — whether they are physical, cognitive, socioeconomic, gender-based, race-based, etc. Inclusion is the intentional and deliberate process of leveraging that diversity for the benefit of your team.

Building a diverse team is an essential first step toward great company culture, but leveraging those individuals’ varying perspectives through inclusion is often neglected. This limits innovation, and ultimately hampers the financial rewards of diversity.

To ensure you are actually leveraging the full power of a diverse team, consider implementing these three inclusion tips:

Know (and own) your biases
Unconscious biases are mental shortcuts we all take — unknowingly — based on social norms and stereotypes. The brain is programmed to make these shortcuts so we can process information quickly.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work to our benefit. Our unconscious biases also tend to result in unknown prejudices, some of which have the potential to stunt our growth by stemming the flow of new and challenging ideas.

“Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People,” by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji, provides a compelling introduction to these concepts and offers an opportunity to understand your biases and take specific steps to limit their impact on workplace culture.

Lead from the front
As a leader, you set the tone for an actively inclusive culture when you personally demonstrate to your team that a diverse range of opinions is valued and appreciated.

Start by establishing a formal process that ensures all types of personalities have an opportunity to express their view, even those who do not normally speak up. Encourage team members to ask clarifying questions, but discourage interruptions before team members have a chance to complete their thoughts.

Remember, listening to other opinions does not require agreement, but it is the only way you’ll ever learn anything new.

Think like an entrepreneur
It may be uncomfortable to grapple with some of the things that come up in truly diverse conversations, but creating an environment where ideas are allowed to clash, and even fail, is a critical part of building a truly innovative culture.

For proof, look to Progressive Insurance’s Business Innovation Garage, a space that provides team members with the entrepreneurial freedom needed to come up with big ideas, test those ideas quickly, fail fast and learn from that failure while uncovering new innovations in the process.

An organization that understands the difference between diversity and inclusion, and leverages both to drive innovation, positions itself for long-term growth and sustainability. By practicing the actions outlined above, your team will be able to continuously unearth new ideas for innovation and process improvement that can positively impact the bottom line.

This post originally appeared in Smart Business Magazine on May 1, 2017