Inclusion Should Not Be a Buzz Word

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Many organizations that weren’t able to get much traction when using the word diversity started shifting to using the word inclusion. That, in itself, isn’t such a bad decision. What has made it not work for quite a few organizations is they started using a different word without changing anything else they were doing.

What’s Your Intention?

When you use the word “inclusion” do you want people in your organization to focus on behaviors that result in greater productivity, improved customer service or other business benefits?

Or do you use the word “inclusion” to describe a focused recruitment process that targets women or specific ethnic groups?

The first example has powerful, positive, proactive potential. The second example shackles inclusion to decades old approaches that are more akin to affirmative action and EEO than to a 21st century focus on retention, quality or increased market share.

Why Does It Matter?

What matters is that you have a very clear vision for what you want to achieve as a result of your focus on diversity and inclusion.

What matters is that people in your organization are clear about the distinction between affirmative action and inclusion.

What matters is that your managers and supervisors understand, and are able to explain to others, how paying attention to diversity and creating inclusive work environments actually help them successfully get their work done.

What matters is that – if you intend to create or maintain an inclusive environment in the workplace – you are providing employees with the training they need to behave with cultural competence.

More Than a Buzz Word

Some organizations that shifted to using the word “inclusion” in addition to (or instead of) the word “diversity” have found it to be en empowering move that enhances their ability to reach and engage more employees.

They often were able to do this because they had very clear intentions to use the change in language to indicate a different or expanded focus on employee engagement, service excellence or translation of company values into daily expression.

If you want inclusion to be more than a buzz word in your organization then you must align it with programs, policies and practices that link the focus on inclusion to the way people interact with other people.

Remember: inclusion is about the ways you relate, the values you demonstrate and the culture you create!

Four Barriers to Effective Diversity Leadership

I am disappointed that so many companies I’ve talked with lately have internal leaders for their diversity and inclusion initiatives who have passion but lack expertise … and have no budget to receive training or coaching. No wonder they are unable to influence the organization to recognize inclusion as a critical strategic element related directly to increased market share, employee retention, innovation, excellent customer service, safety or quality.

Well Liked and Well Rewarded

Businesswoman Walking on a TightropeA large number of people in these key diversity leadership roles were promoted from within. They have a great understanding of the history, culture and values in their organization. Typically they are well liked by senior leaders and they are rewarded for their pleasing personality or their ability to “get along” within the limitations of the existing system.

How likely is it that this person will recognize the changes needed or take the risk to be viewed as pushing for change? Unless they have extraordinary skills, or receive mentoring about change management and strategic positioning of diversity and inclusion they tend to focus on maintaining the status quo instead of leading the organization to a new and expanded state.

Fighting for Change

Businessman YellingOf course, there are some who have been promoted from within because they were viewed as either dissatisfied employees with good ideas … or people so passionate about diversity and inclusion that their ideas needed to be heard. These employees then get locked into the role of agitator and activist and are not provided the skill building they need to be viewed as strategic and productive. The promotion into the diversity leadership role quickly becomes frustrating to them because they believed the organization was ready for a change it was not … and they don’t know how to build alliances and position their arguments in ways that are likely to make the change happen.

Fast Track to Management

Businessman with TeamThere are a group of people in key diversity leadership roles who were perceived by senior leaders to be on the fast track to management and this assignment was viewed as a “developmental” role. It gives the incumbent a promotion into a certain level of management where they can be exposed to leadership process and expectations. However, they often have limited experience in the subject matter and are typically told they don’t really need any expertise because either (a) any one can lead this area or (b) it’s a temporary position they’ll only be in for a couple of years until something else opens up.

The Diversity Expert Who Isn’t

This is another pattern that is troublesome. The organization hires someone who worked in a diversity department in another organization or maybe even someone who was an independent consultant for a few years. This diversity leader knows more about diversity and inclusion than anyone else in the organization and is perceived internally as very smart on this topic. However, their actual knowledge and understanding is very limited to one aspect, or their previous experience was limited to programs that were more affirmative action oriented than inclusion focused.


Often this person has good ideas but they have very limited skills related to moving strategically from idea through implementation. The organization is happy because there are no major problems or conflicts and the diversity leader is happy because they are receiving a steady paycheck. It can feel like a risk to bring in new ideas when everything is going along just fine so they keep doing what they know to do but don’t take any risks. Comfort with what is blocks growth to what could be.

What’s sad about this is that the senior leadership (and sometimes the diversity leader) have no idea what they don’t know. They don’t know what they could be or could have that would contribute to growing their bottom line and improving customer service or employee retention.

The Answer

Gone are the days when an organization hires a consultant and hands over the strategy and implementation of their diversity initiative to that firm. It does still happen occasionally but it’s rare. I actually support companies hiring internal leadership for their diversity and inclusion initiatives because I strongly believe ownership should be within and disbursed throughout the organization.

But the majority of internal diversity leaders I’ve talked to recently are weak on diversity-related knowledge, ill-prepared to develop or lead strategically, are insufficiently funded to make a positive difference in the organization and are afraid to make waves because they know they are not perceived as valuable contributors to the growth and success of the company.

This is what disappoints me.

And the solution is relatively simple and relatively inexpensive. All it takes is a small investment in three things:

      1. Be sure internal leaders of diversity and inclusion initiatives have strong skills in strategic planning, conflict resolution and leadership development. Good communication skills and a pleasing personality are not enough to be successful in this role.
      2. Be sure internally developed strategic plans are reviewed by, or include input from, experienced professionals who not only have broad knowledge about diversity in the workplace but also interact with other companies from your industry and with companies representing other industries. Fresh ideas and unknown opportunities come from this external input.
      3. Be sure the organization invests in the internal diversity leader’s ongoing development and exposure. Going to conferences to build a national network of peers and to learn about the latest trends and changes should be required. Providing internal diversity leaders with a more experienced external coach or mentor is highly recommended. These are not expenses, they are investments in the success of the incumbent who has been charged with providing excellent advice and guidance within your organization.

Tracy Brown, President of Diversity Trends LLCOf course I’d like to be considered to help develop skills and strategy. But whether my company is hired or not, this external guidance, mentoring and training is critically needed.

Internal diversity and inclusion professionals can be a valuable resource for your organization’s strategic plans related to marketing, recruitment, retention, marketing, innovation and expansion. It begins with a healthy mix of subject matter expertise, skills in strategic planning, leadership development and conflict management, plus the ability to partner with leadership in an effective way.

Has Your Diversity Strategy Evolved?

I love working with organizations to create or update their Diversity and Inclusion strategy. But I am surprised by the number of companies that are still approaching diversity and inclusion the same way they handled affirmative action two or three  decades ago.

handshakeRespect Not Rights

Your 21st century strategy for D&I should pave the way for employees, customers and the community to interact with one another from a foundation of mutual respect. There’s no need to argue about civil rights or politics when your strategy is clearly linked to generating or supporting business results.

Results Not Regretsbusiness results

The best strategies link D&I initiatives to the organization’s mission, values or established business priorities. If you’re still talking about doing what’s “politically correct” or if your decisions are being heavily influenced by guilt about what’s gone wrong (or hasn’t been done) in the past, your strategy needs a major overhaul.

Retention Not Recruitmentmulti-ethnic team

Every business that’s growing will always have to recruit employees. But by now your recruitment efforts should be supported by processes and procedures that insure you attract diversity in its many forms. The most compelling strategies today focus on retaining the great talent you’ve attracted and insuring your good employees are valued for both who they are and what they do.

Tracy Brown, President of Diversity Trends LLCDiversity Strategy Made Easy™

If it’s time to bring your diversity and inclusion strategy into the 21st century, consider working with Tracy Brown and Diversity Trends LLC. Visit Or set a specific time to learn more about working with a complementary telephone consultation.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit Alll LogoSeveral years ago I developed a six-session series to help internal staff develop their own customized diversity strategy. The series was titled, One Size Does NOT Fit all, because I couldn’t imagine any two companies having the exact same strategy.

What about your company? Are you using a “cookie cutter” diversity strategy hobbled together based on an article of the 10 things “every diversity program” should include? Are you spending most of your energy on EEO compliance instead of activities that support your organization’s primary business goals?

One of the first questions I ask when organizations invite me to come in to do training is, “Do you have a diversity strategy?” Here are some of the most common responses to that question:

  • “Well, our diversity strategy isn’t written down, but we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and everyone know it.”
  • “We have a diversity strategy but it hasn’t been updated in 7-8  years.”
  • “Yes, we update our Affirmative Action Plan every year, just like we’re supposed to.”
  • “No, we don’t have a separate strategy because diversity is just part of our overall HR strategy.”

Some of the best answers I’ve received to the question include:

  • “Of course, we have a diversity strategy and that’s why we are interested in you coming in to do training. We want the training to reinforce what we’ve been saying and help employees be ready for the next phase of our strategy.”
  • Yes, we have a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion that we update every 2-3 years based on changes to our marketing strategy and business plan.”
  • No we don’t have a separate diversity strategy but diversity business objectives are included in every element of our operational strategic plan.

Work Team with Diversity

One company we worked with recently needed to develop a strategy that involved and engaged people from many different departments throughout the organization. For their strategy they needed to focus heavily on how diversity affects team work and ways inclusion could help them serve their customers better. As a result, we introduced employee and customer surveys for real-time feedback and developed employee champions for diversity as key elements in their plan.

But a different client was in a rapid growth mode as a result of signing 3 really large manufacturing contracts. Their diversity strategy was heavily influenced by (a) their need to recruit a large number of blue collar and technical employees in a relatively short period of time and (b) the fact that the majority of their employees rarely had contact with their end user customer. They involved existing employees in recruitment events in communities they had previously ignored and created a small-group peer development system to develop a stronger sense of teamwork and inclusion throughout their organization.

Creating a diversity and inclusion strategy from scratch can be time consuming and challenging. Even updating a strategy that has been successful can be difficult. But we help organizations easily create or update their strategies using our Diversity Strategy Made Easy™ or Eight Essential Elements™ models. We provide coaching to your staff members responsible for the strategy and guide them through a process designed to ensure they consider all key aspect of an effective strategy.

Your strategy provides the guide for decisions made and actions taken throughout your organization. Be sure leaders throughout your organization understand what is expected of them and ways they can utilize diversity as a resource for achieving their goals. Use your diversity and inclusion strategy as a business tool to drive business results.

Let us help you do this.