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Diversity at Work


by Stephany Below, SIOP Communications Manager

Diversity at Work

How Organizations Can Leverage Inclusion to Make the Most of Their Diverse Workforce

Over the last several decades, organizations, specialists, and practitioners have considerably expanded attention to diversity at work. However, new research and practice suggest that diversity alone may not benefit organizations.

To make the most of a diverse workforce, leaders need to know how to properly utilize such diversity, and inclusion has emerged as a core concept and practice in helping organizations do just that.

"Organizations and leaders want to benefit from diversity, but to achieve that they cannot keep pretending they have only one kind of person in their organizations,” explained Barbara Deane, editor-in-chief for DiversityCentral.com and co-editor with SIOP Fellow Bernardo Ferdman of Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion(Jossey-Bass, 2013), the newest edition to the SIOP Professional Practice series.

“So if they want to benefit from diversity, they have to use inclusion, they have to practice it in everything they do.”

Diversity at Work is now available in the SIOP Store.
Read a Table of Contents/Excerpt on the SIOP Store page.

Inclusion involves what individuals in organizations and society as a whole do to foster the full participation and full contributions of everyone, explained Ferdman, professor of organizational psychology at Alliant International University and principal of Ferdman Consulting. Inclusion is a way of making sure that “everyone can produce,” Deane added.

“It requires collaboration, it requires communication, it requires being open and knowing that you might not have all the answers,” she said.

It can be overwhelming for some people to get a handle on that, Ferdman noted.

“A lot of people have thought about diversity in terms of representation, and they leave it at that,” he said. “But we know in the field that diversity is about more than that. It is really about getting the benefits of diversity as a resource, and to be able to truly get that benefit we need to think about inclusion on many different levels.”

Part of inclusion is making sure everyone feels that they are part of a whole without giving up those things that make them different, he continued.

“The complex part is that inclusion operates on many different levels; it’s not just about individual behavior. We belong to these different social groups. We need to pay attention to relations between groups, systems, and how they work together. What we do with all those pieces is what we call the practice of inclusion. So it’s a complex kind of idea, but it’s simple at the same time. It’s simple because it has to do with the things we all know how to do, like saying ‘hello’ to someone or making sure people are present in a really connected way. We cannot benefit from diversity without the principles of inclusion.”

“One fellow said to me,” Deane added, “‘Diversity is what comes in your door, inclusion is what you do with it.’”

Diversity at Work outlines the key issues involved in framing, designing, and implementing inclusion initiatives for organizations and groups while offering ideas for helping individuals develop competencies for inclusion and showing how to apply it in practice. Part of that application involves having fair processes, Ferdman and Deane explained.

“Think about how we look for the best person for a job,” Ferdman said. “What is our image of what a leader is? We know from research that it is very connected to traditional kinds of leaders, mostly in the United States, tall, white men of a certain age with no disabilities. So how do we expand our notion of what a leader is? How do we create processes for testing accomplishments that are broader without sacrificing in another way?”

Deane recalled a time when she was being considered for a scholarship at a university, which involved her being out of the country for a few weeks; the faculty members who were making the decision were all male except one woman.

“The male faculty members said, ‘well who is going to cook for her husband while she is gone?’” Deane recalled. “If the woman had not been in the room to ask, ‘is this a criterion we are going to look at for all candidates?’ I would have never gotten the scholarship. If you don’t have an inclusive process for drawing on an organization’s diversity, you can’t benefit from it.”

And those benefits to organizations that practice inclusion can be vast, Ferdman explained.

“When people are experiencing inclusion, they have more energy, they have more commitment, they are more likely to do better work,” he said. “The hope with this book is to show all of that and encourage more practice of it. We need more research and evidence of these benefits. We have evidence of diversity in organizations, and we know the benefits happen under certain conditions. Talent management has to be something that considers the talent as being diverse and having needs, and by meeting those needs and really considering the range of people who might be present, we are going to get a wider range of resources from those people.”

Inclusion is not something you do and you’re done with, Ferdman added.

“Inclusion is something that requires ongoing activity, attention, and an appropriate framework,” he said. “It’s about what we all do, it’s about what leadership is doing and thinking, it’s about the way in which we do what we do. You can’t check inclusion off a list. It’s something you have to embed in how you work all the time. It requires constant attention, but it also strengthens what you are doing. Ultimately, the real challenge is to assess with whatever we do whether we are really using all the resources that are out there while making sure that everybody feels a full part and that none of us are better than others. We all have an influence on what happens.”

Determining if inclusion practices are being implemented effectively can come down to employees’ answers to questions like “Do I feel safe? Do people in my group feel safe? Is diversity recognized and addressed?” Ferdman explained.

“In terms of behavior, sometimes we need to be more uncomfortable,” he added. “A lot of time we think about inclusion as everybody being more comfortable, but that’s not going to be very helpful if people have ideas or perspectives that are jarring or different, so you need to be ready to get a little bit out of your comfort zone too. On one hand you need to be really grounded, but on the other hand you need to be open and be able to collaborate with others who do things differently. Oftentimes that can mean that needing to be more self-aware as well.”

Leaders have to help create the space where we can have this inclusive culture, he continued.

“They have to model the process. They have to have conversations about inclusion,” he said. “If there are things that inadvertently create exclusion, there are other things that help foster inclusion. Exclusion is not the opposite of inclusion. You can eliminate exclusion but still not have inclusion.”

The field has looked at adverse impact, Ferdman explained, but what we have not done as much is look at how sometimes neutral policies can also be exclusive.

“Sometimes treating everyone the same can be harmful,” he said. “For example, a young employee becomes a parent. If he or she were not afforded certain privileges such as telecommuting or flex time, it would be very challenging for that employee to give the job their all. By giving someone responsibility to make choices regarding his or her situation, you can empower them. There’s this tension between treating everyone the same and treating different people differently. And inclusion is about holding that tension in a productive way.”

Ferdman and Deane hope their book will bring a much-needed perspective to the literature.

“There is maybe a handful or books, and I mean a handful, no more than that, that have ‘inclusion’ in their title,” Deane explained. “But they are not books based on research. They are conceptual books trying to explain what it is and how you might execute it. There is no real book that has substantively defined inclusion much less tried to show how it works in actual applications. That’s where I see this book providing a great deal of value to all those in this field because it gives a very thoughtful definition and then provides a whole range of ways to think about the idea and apply it.”

A main benefit of the text is that the book opens doorways between the various camps in the field, Deane explained.

“There are people participating in this book who may have never participated in an I-O psychology volume before. At the same time, practitioners in the diversity and inclusion camps are being exposed to a wide range of scholars and academics in this field.”

The editors believe the wide variety of perspectives in Diversity at Work have helped create a very unique and useful book. The book includes 23 chapters by 34 authors who have lived, worked, or had extensive experience in more than 10 countries.

“It’s in that richness that I think we really have a much more powerful and much more nuanced understanding of inclusion,” Ferdman explained. “It would have been a lot easier to write my own book—it would have taken less time, maybe—but in the end I feel that this is the way to talk about inclusion, to have many different perspectives on it. We try to model what it is we are talking about, and I am hoping the book will be taken that way.”

Anyone with questions about inclusion can contact Bernardo Ferdman via his website at www.ferdmanconsulting.com. Barbara Deane can be reached via www.diversitycentral.com.

Learn More About the Practice of Inclusion:

  • Visit the website www.practiceofinclusion.com.
  • OD Network webinar with Ferdman & Deane, March 12, 2014. See www.odnetwork.org for additional information.
  • The Forum on Workplace Inclusion-Minneapolis, MN, March 18-20, 2014, www.stthomas.edu/mcf. Both Ferdman and Deane will be conducting workshops and will be part of a plenary session. Other chapter authors will also be presenting.