This article was originally published here for The Workfaith Connection on February 3, 2021.

Typically, you will hear the words “diversity” and “inclusion” used together like they are married but respectfully, they are two different things. In my opinion, an organization should have a clear and separate plan of action on how to achieve both things. Diversity should look beyond the usual demographic measurements of race, gender and age and include varying thoughts, perspectives, and cultures. In my experience, while the definition of diversity has been clearly defined, inclusion is often left up to the organization’s interpretation. Without a vision for what inclusion is and how to achieve it, no one is truly held accountable for ensuring that it actually happens. The default approach of just “being diverse” is left to move the needle alone.

So the challenge lies in moving from saying “we are a diverse company” to having actions that show “we are a diverse company, and we include every employee in our corporate thoughts, words and deeds.” Women, minorities, and even millennials have typically been ways companies improve their diversity through workforce numbers. However, all of these groups of people have something in common – they aren’t always made to feel like they would be included within the workplace dynamics. And it’s unfortunate, but the fact remains that they will never have a seat at the table if they aren’t even in the room to begin with.

Employees want to feel that their company is a safe space, open to receiving thoughts and perspectives from everyone. Inclusion sends the message that everyone is not only welcomed but also supported. People want to be treated fairly and with respect. There should be no discrimination or favortism. Feeling valued, appreciated, and having a sense of belonging is critical for achieving inclusivity. That’s the baseline for building and maintaining trust within the workplace environment.

The reasons to be inclusive are as long as my arm, but yet there are still companies who know they should do better and still choose not to. Avoiding the issue doesn’t make it go away. As a matter of fact, not addressing inclusivity only creates an opportunity for a brighter spotlight to shine on the problem.

Employers must understand that if you have a diverse cross-section of viewpoints, value systems, and backgrounds, you will be able to expand your reach in the marketplace. Companies that have a diverse customer base should have an employee base that is representative of that base. This grants employers the opportunity to internally reflect the community they serve.

I recently spoke with Phillip Dunn, Founder of 2TheTable, LLC, who said: “Diversion and inclusion are necessary in the workplace to maximize opportunities and minimize risk. Opportunities often go unnoticed when the workforce is homogeneous and lacks diversity of thought. For example, in banking, some financial institutions might be able to attract more diverse depositors if they understood the financial habits of different communities. They could design marketing to attract more depositors and quality borrowers. Missed opportunities translate to missed earnings potential and market capture.”

“Many companies could avoid risk by simply diversifying their workforce and executive level,” he continued. In recent years, we’ve seen companies offend various communities with their choice of marketing imagery (H&M) or their response to certain events (Starbucks). The fallout from such missteps can hurt sales, affect stock prices and damage the brand. These risks likely could have been avoided had there been diversity of thought and community. 

Essentially, without inclusion, companies have taken their finger off the pulse of the communities they serve. This could potentially lead to organizations making more assumptions than assertions. Spending more time doing damage control for their cultural missteps than boosting morale by encouraging cultural awareness and appreciation. And let’s not forget, being inclusive is not reserved just for the standard employee, but also for executive leadership and the C-suite.

Diversity is the start of change, but inclusion will sustain it. Organizations still need to ensure that workplaces are free from discrimination and enable people to reach their full potential. We all should be striving to do what’s right, even when it isn’t easy, rather than just what policies and procedures require or what corporate culture traditionally dictates. The bottom line is this: Diversity without inclusion is not enough. Because unless you back up your values with actions, they’re just empty words.

Feel free to share your thoughts!