Diversity “is”; you have to “do” inclusion.

The shift toward inclusion actually calls upon us to DO something.

If focusing on inclusion actually induces us to ensure everyone’s inclusion (i.e. full participation in the belonging, learning, contributing and challenging activities of the society or organization they are joining), then putting more emphasis on inclusion than diversity could be broadly advantageous. After all, everyone means everyone.

In reality, though, this may not help us escape from the equality of opportunities vs. equality of outcomes debate. As long as we see divergence in outcomes that breaks down along some sort of diversity parameter (e.g. race, gender, culture, etc.) we will still have to consider the possibility that there are barriers to inclusion (participation) for people who have been categorized as fitting within that category. And if we acknowledge those barriers AND are truly committed to full inclusion (full participation) by all, we’ll have to do something about it.

At a macro level across an entire population extended over the long term, taking steps to increase inclusion for those associated with a group that has historically not been fully included may not be a zero sum game. One group’s gain doesn’t have to be another group’s loss. Research seems to indicate that increasing opportunity for some has a positive impact on the opportunities available to all at a macro level.

However, at a personal level, as the playing field levels out and more “competitors” are given greater access to a greater number of opportunities, it is entirely possible that certain specific individuals may feel that they have lost access to some opportunities due to increased competition that they didn’t have to deal with before.

We each like to think we personally are above average, and some of us, of course, believe we are way above average, so inevitably some of us will be very frustrated when we are not successful in winning the competition for a specific opportunity. Thus, it isn’t surprising to hear frustrated people look for external causes (e.g. DEI initiatives and metrics) to blame when they don’t personally get the outcomes they are hoping for.

Over the long haul, putting the emphasis on inclusion rather than diversity might get us closer to that mythical color-blind society. In the short-term, though, as long as there are patterned, measurable differences in outcomes, we will still be brought back to the reality that we do naturally detect differences and whether we are aware of it or not the detection of those differences does often influence how we treat and invest in each other. We will still need to take steps to address that unfair treatment and investment.

The shift toward inclusion actually calls upon us to DO something, but actions cause outcomes and those outcomes will be different depending on what things were like for you before these new actions were introduced to the system. Some people who gain (a mostly deserved increase) in opportunities will and should feel happy about the actions. Still, we can’t dismiss the reality that on a personal level, some people may experience a competitive loss that feels very personal. At the moment when they don’t get the outcome they were hoping for – an outcome they might even feel they deserve as an outgrowth of their personal traits, hard work and skills – it won’t be easy for them to accept that this is just part of the process of restoring fairness to the system as a whole.

Whether we tether our efforts to diversity, inclusion or some other term, the biggest challenge may be that some of us will always experience ANY steps that increase equality of opportunity for others as steps that decrease opportunities for “me.”


© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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