Inclusivity that contemplates: More than just diversity

Diversity without inclusivity is incomplete, but inclusivity can be tough to measure, and subtle in its effect.

In a 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review, Christine M. Riordan, PhD, wrote, “Over the past decade, organizations have worked hard to create diversity within their workforce. Diversity can bring many organizational benefits, including greater customer satisfaction, better market position, successful decision-making, an enhanced ability to reach strategic goals, improved organizational outcomes, and a stronger bottom line. However, while many organizations are better about creating diversity, many have not yet figured out how to make the environment inclusive—that is, create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities.”

Inclusivity is defined in many dictionaries as “the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.” We're probably all guilty of “knowing who we know” and looking for any similarity that makes us admire and identify with each other. In our organizations, we often hire and promote those who share attitudes, behaviors, and traits that are similar to our own. As Dr. Riordan further states, “Thus, many organizations unknowingly have ‘prototypes for success' that perpetuate a similarity bias and limit the pool of potential candidates for positions, important assignments, and promotions.”

While diversity is easy to measure, inclusivity isn't. Diversity is something an organization can keep statistics on and can audit to assess proportions. At ACP, we are able to know how many women physician members we have, how many international medical graduates (IMGs), and our ethnicity makeup (at least among those who choose to divulge that information). We can monitor trends and create interventions to change those trends. Inclusivity, in contrast, is an action, a feeling, a mindset, a way of life in our professional or personal perspectives. By that same token, it is not measurable. It's how we act, or the way we speak, or the way we think. It's often internal, easily masked, yet is also easily demonstrated and visible through our speech and actions. It is something that can be either embedded or shunned in an organization's culture but that cannot be easily analyzed or tracked by reports. It's so much deeper than diversity, which is what makes it so difficult to accomplish. We may think we are inclusive and never intentionally discriminate but may be unaware of tiny microaggressive, discriminatory comments, quotes, and mindsets that may contradict what we say or feel.

One might argue that it might be nearly impossible to be inclusive. In pondering what we could do to overcome barriers to inclusivity, we might need to overcome our subtle biases. Our tendency to gravitate to colleagues of the same ethnicity, the same mindset, or the same values and beliefs may automatically exclude others who are different. Yet, we could all testify that having those differences in our professional life or in our organizations provides the growth mindset that we yearn for, the ability to broaden our vision and make our mission more relatable to a larger swath of people.

We need to encourage diversity of thinking and viewpoint with intention, as part of a culture of inclusivity. It is well documented that people who report to us in an organization often try to mimic our viewpoints and perspectives in an attempt to conform, aiming to secure an endorsement of their abilities and an opportunity to advance.

Inclusivity can lead to a sense of threat in that the same people in our organization who might appear mainstream or who conform might feel that they are no longer valued because our priority is now focused on the “members on the fringes” or the “marginalized.” As leaders, we are called upon to reassure everyone that inclusivity is not at the cost of someone else, that we do not want to pit one viewpoint against another and that the strength of the organization is when it is truly a “melting pot” of all different aspects, be it gender, age, ethnicity, background, or education.

Inclusivity is not an overnight phenomenon, not a tectonic shift, but a subtle transition on a continuum. It is not an impulse but a movement, a conviction, a persistent nagging of our conscience pushing us to move to be more open-minded, more intentional, more accepting. The challenge is, “How can we do this?” In my first President's Message in May of this year, I wrote about how diversity and inclusion expert Vernā Myers answers this question. “Diversity is being invited to the party,” she has said. “Inclusion is being asked to dance.”