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What Does Inclusion Mean to You?

On Friday, May 7, 2010, I attended the Boston Center for Community & Justice (BCCJ) Business Network Breakfast, as a guest of Josefina Bonilla of Color Magazine. The topic of discussion was around Institutionalizing Diversity as Business Strategy. The panel of presenters came from a variety of backgrounds, they included: Greg Almeida of Global View Communications, Shirley Leung a Business Editor at Boston Globe, Dr. Janet Porter, COO of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Andrew Rodriguez, Senior Manager at Deloitte.  All had interesting presentations that really made you stop and contemplate diversity and inclusion and the challenges involved for companies and individuals.

In a casual conversation with a client earlier in the week, the topic of inclusion came up.  Specifically, the client noted that they are very inclusive; yet were having problems getting enough individuals of varied ethnic backgrounds to join their firm at any level.  Interestingly, the same topic with the same statement made, came up at my table’s discussion on this topic.

In speaking with the client, I asked her to define “inclusion” for me.  She defined inclusion as “ensuring that the company does not discriminate in hiring.”  She further said that the organization welcomes all races and religious backgrounds and they do not discriminate based on age.  However, they realized they needed to do a better job making things easier for some employees.  For example, they have a couple of Muslim employees who pray during the day; however, there was not yet a good place for them to pray within the office and many were going out to their cars to do so.  The company was setting aside a room for those individuals who wanted a place to pray during the day.  Some executives, however, felt that since only two individuals needed this accommodation, it may not be necessary to find a special place for them.  Discussion was focused on how far the company needed to go for employees.  She also noted that the company was addressing a few issues with some individuals, such as jokes being told during meetings or team projects that focused on religion or sexual orientation.     At the table at the BCCJ event, the individual at the table who discussed this topic noted that her organization was trying to get a greater number of diverse individuals into specific business units of their organization.

These are common concerns in nearly every organization.  In such a diverse, global environment, it is important that companies focus on ensuring that their employees feel included, regardless of the employee’s background, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc.   Those organizations that can succeed in this area will find that the organization is a successful one, with individuals committed to its growth and survival and willing to go the extra mile to ensure the organization reaches its goals.

Definition of Inclusion and Diversity

Miller and Katz, in their book,
The Inclusion Breakthrough: Unleashing the Real Power of Diversity (2002)
, present the following definition of inclusion:  “…a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best work.”
When people feel included, they are engaged and feel as if they are an essential part of the organization.   Morale is much higher.   Organizations retain employees far longer than organizations who don’t make employees feel included.

Diversity is different than inclusion, though they are often used together and sometimes as if they are interchangeable.  Diversity is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “quality, state, fact, or stance of being diverse; difference.”  People are diverse in many ways, such as:

  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Educational background
  • Political beliefs
  • Age
  • Religious beliefs
  • How they were raised
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Economic status
  • Their career/job paths
  • Their neighborhood

 Why Focus on Inclusion?

A company that supports inclusion and diversity efforts,  and ensures such efforts are a component of the very fabric of the organization, are the most likely to be successful over the long term.  These are the organizations who have a diverse group of talent – the employees work well together, are committed to and supportive of each other and the organization, and the company wants to retain them.  For companies who truly want to focus on inclusion, they are looking for systemic change over a period of time, not just to “check off the box.”  They realize this is an ongoing commitment and must be revisited regularly to ensure continue success in these areas.  These companies want to make an impact and realize that if they are going to succeed in a global environment and retain their employees and ensure their employees come from a diverse background, they are going to have to focus on inclusion and not just give it a passing glance.

Your customers and clients are expecting that you will be a diverse and inclusive organization – that is the kind of company where they want to bring their business.   This is becoming increasingly important to the consumer and any business that wants to continue to grow and prosper will ensure that diversity and inclusion programs are a key strategic component of the organization.   Where is your company headed?  How much importance is given to diversity and inclusion?

Want to learn more about the Boston Center for Community & Justice?  Visit their website.
Visit Color Magazine’s website.
Read our interview with Josefina Bonilla.

What’s your experience?  Share your thoughts with others in the Comments field below.