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Which Comes First: Diversity or Inclusion?

Group of white people sitting around a table talking to each other

When companies begin to implement diversity initiatives, they often ask whether they should focus on diversity or inclusion.

While it may seem like a natural progression to move from one to the other, the more lasting way to success is a little different.

Where We’re At

In our report, The Current State of Diversity Recruiting, we surveyed team members from 150 organizations. Our goal was to learn more about where their organization landed on our diversity recruiting maturity model.

While we didn’t expect everyone to be a leader in the space, it was surprising to see the reality.

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When prompted with, “Our senior executives understand the strategic importance of recruiting and building a diverse workforce.” Only 23% of respondents shared that their executives had a strong understanding.

When stating, “Our onboarding program is designed to make all diverse new employees feel valued, welcomed, and included.” Only 40% said that their onboarding program did a little bit to welcome diverse employees. Nearly 28% of respondents said, no, their onboarding program was not inclusively designed.

The takeaway: While many companies and teams have realized that diversity is a critical tenet of their success, too few have taken the needed steps to make it a reality.

Which Comes First: Diversity or Inclusion?

First, we need to define diversity and inclusion. Diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and more aren’t just buzzwords. They each have a set of definitions as well as a set of theories behind them. We’ve shared the full definitions previously on the blog here, but let’s review.

Diversity is the practice or quality of including or involving people from various social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.

Inclusion is the act of being included within a group or structure. 

So which comes first…?

Well…neither. We often make the mistake of thinking about diversity and inclusion efforts as a checklist; first, we do this, then we’ll do this, then we’ll do this, etc. “Diversity” or “inclusion” is not something that you finish. It’s an ongoing process and journey that requires effort, strategy, and intentional effort.

Quote image that reads, "Diversity and Inclusion is an ongoing process and journey that requires effort, strategy, and intentional effort."

In reality, the entire process is based on a mindset of interconnectivity. Khalil Smith, the Vice President of Consulting at the NeuroLeadership Institute, shared in a 2020 Forbes article, “You should start with mindset;…Part of why growth mindset is so important as the first building block of a diversity and inclusion strategy can be boiled down to the axiom “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” What it means in the D&I space is that you are who you are, and nothing is going to change that. That sentiment is poison to diversity and inclusion efforts.” (Source)

We have to believe that we can change, grow, and transform our cultures to be better. Smith goes on to suggest that once you have perfected your mindset, you can more comfortably turn your attention to inclusion “Because diversity without inclusion is a revolving door of talent.  Great people come, they get ignored, become disenfranchised, and they leave.”

The Power of Interconnectivity

While it’s always possible to prioritize one initiative, it’s important to remember that successful diversity and inclusion efforts focus on growth and connection.

Each initiative affects the others. Diversity provides the ability to build inclusive cultures. Inclusive cultures grow belonging, which leads to welcoming diverse applicants and candidates. Those involved need to understand how their actions contribute to diversity, inclusion/belonging, equity, and more.

How are you building a fully-fledged and connected workplace?
How does recruiting fit into that process?