A Conceptual Blueprint for Optimizing the Benefits of Inclusion
Few things in life are simple, and even the simple things can get complicated. Building an inclusive culture and achieving the benefits of inclusion are not simple things, but there are ways to simplify it from a conceptual standpoint. Towards that end, we propose the following blueprint:
In this blueprint, D = Diversity, UB = Unconscious Bias, Un = Uniqueness, Be = Belongingness, and InQ = Inclusion Quotient (the degree of inclusion present in your organizational culture). As with any good blueprint, let’s break it down to make it easier to understand.
Diversity. Many leaders think of diversity in ideological terms with regards to the relative proportions of demographic groups (e.g., defined by gender, race/ethnicity, age, religion, national origin, etc.). This may be a good start, but it doesn’t capture the notion of inclusion in its broader sense. Optimizing your inclusion quotient requires a mix of different perspectives. These differences reflect factors such as educational background, work experience, socio-economic backgrounds, political affiliation, work style, personality, cultural background, and so on. All these factors (and more) are critical to achieving a true diversity of perspectives.
Some equate diversity with inclusion, or
D = InQ
The direct implication in that point of view is that the very factors which contribute to unconscious bias, individual uniqueness, and the sense of belongingness are unaccounted for.
This form of bias reflects the opinions we hold about people based on stereotypes or group affiliation(s) as opposed to facts and observations. These unconscious beliefs manifest themselves in attitudes and behaviors that can have a detrimental effect on maximizing your inclusion quotient. However, all other things being equal, as diversity increases, the more likely it is that the impact of unconscious bias will be apparent (i.e., more diversity + unconscious bias = less inclusive). Unconscious bias is the one component that can derail all your efforts at optimizing the benefits of inclusion.
Uniqueness and Belongingness
Although distinct, uniqueness and belongingness go hand in hand. We know from well-established scientific studies that people have competing needs to feel both similar enough to others to be accepted as part of a group (belongingness) as well as to be recognized for their individual qualities and contributions (uniqueness). The key is to achieve balance between these two needs. Being fully assimilated into a group to the point your individuality disappears (the extreme here would be groupthink) or to be too individualistic to the point the group rejects you (a.k.a. the lone wolf) can be the result of these needs being too far out of balance.
A sense of belongingness is achieved when a person feels accepted, supported, and valued by their team, department, and/or organization. A sense of uniqueness is achieved when a person feels they are different from others in their team, department, and/or organization but these differences are respected and appreciated. In other words, they may not always agree with you, but they like what you bring to the table. It is a delicate balance to be sure, but one that is crucial for inclusion.
In conclusion, maximizing your Inclusion Quotient (InQ) requires attention to more than a focus on diversity alone. It is critical to take steps to minimize unconscious bias, and ensure your employees feel that they both belong, and uniquely contribute, to your organization. A good first step is to diagnose where your organization currently stands on each component. The rest of the journey may be challenging, but it will start in the right direction.