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The Difference between Diversity & Inclusion


Many people seem to think diversity and inclusion (D&I) are the same thing.  There is actually quite a huge distinction.  And, to have one without the other is to invite chaos and/or have a flawed strategy.


Diversity is a noun.  It is the mix of different types of people.  There are TWO types of diversity: 1) Visible Diversity; 2) Thought Diversity.

Visible Diversity.  This is the “traditional” diversity of having a physical representation of various minority groups (e.g. gender, age, disabled, ethnic/racial).  This is very important to some.  For example, one of my clients is a General Counsel and she said she was invited to interview for a position at a well-known oil company, but when she walked into the room and saw a conference table full of white males only, she chose to walk back out.  She joined a competitor, which had more diverse representation.


  • Tokens. Visibly diverse talent is set up to fail, if organizations hire those who do not have the qualifications for the position.  Morale is ridden with resentment by the employee and his/her colleagues.
  • “People of Color.” To literally say this phrase is to invite dichotomous, Black & White mindsets. It creates the polarization of Whites and “the others.” (de Beauvoir and Hegel beautifully made this point in their writings).  Avoid contributions to reducing the complexity of diversity to just pigmentation.
  • Oreos/Twinkies. These slang terms were created by the racial groups to signify that while there may be a racial difference, the ethnic difference is what dominates.  For example, a Korean infant girl was adopted by Danish parents.  She completed her education in Denmark, speaks only Danish and English (no Korean), and has only Danish relatives as a part of her life.  She is racially diverse, but ethnically the same.  This is why many within the African-American community felt that President Barack Obama is “not really Black.” Obama was raised by a single white mom and her white parents; and he spent much of his childhood outside of the USA.

Thought Diversity.  This is the richness from which corporations, government, and academic institutions can reap.  Numerous studies have been conducted to prove that thought diversity is the key to a robust strategy.  For example, Procter & Gamble found that problems are far more likely to be solved with a cross-functional mix of a physical chemist, a molecular biologist, and a biophysicist than by using only chemists.  And, Bletchley Park (WWII code-breaking group) was hardly a rainbow gathering, though they were cognitively diverse.

Peter Drucker: Effective work is actually done in and by teams of people of diverse knowledge and skills.

This idea isn’t new.  Plato said it 2K years ago.

Consultants can add value just by being different, by possessing a different set of core tools than people at the company.  Consultants challenge the status quo.  They are trained dissenters.  According to Scott Page, a statistician who conducted a quantitative study on diversity, “[Consultants] force us to abandon our existing predictive models.”


Inclusion is more of a verb.  By practicing Inclusion as a leader, you invite voices that can share a perspective not yet considered.  Corporations which hire visibly diverse talent, but keep them working small projects and/or out of strategy meetings are simply out to appease the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  This talent will, in effect, yield little to no returns because the lack of inclusion has communicated to them that they are not taken seriously and they will most probably leave or practice show up to work but have low productivity.

Corporations which hire cognitively diverse talent without inclusion will suffer the same outcomes of attrition and lack of engagement.  Groupthink is the usual consequence for those who stay, since most employees want stability and work hard to assimilate into their work environments. (See blog  Corporate Primatology).

Inclusive organizations yield exponential results. (See blog Women in Corporate Leadership).

In summary, companies have folded because of too much homogeneity and lack of cognitive diversity.  If an organization’s Senior Leadership is so weak that it requires strokes of egotistical self-validation to hear and see more of themselves through their recruitment and promotion processes, then those organizations will surely fail.  There is simply no need to sacrifice ability for diversity; rather, to balance the two is to generate a more powerful impact in the marketplace.

“May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.”  – Mr. Spock, Vulcan, Star Trek


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is Vice Chair of Middle Tennessee’s Society for Human Resource Management Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic business partners.

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©Rossina Gil, 2014


Savage Curtain episode,

Scott Page. The Difference. Pg 344.