Moving beyond diversity to inclusion

Diversity is finding and hiring, while inclusion is about retention, loyalty and growth — getting it right means more growth, higher profits and better ideas
By Ratna Omidvar
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/19/2011

Diversity is a big word. It’s about all of us. Increasing diversity in an organization means being open to people who are different, who come from different places, who have different life experiences and different perspectives, who may think differently and, therefore, look at issues and problems differently.

Difference is an asset to be nurtured because it is an important element to an organization’s success, creativity and innovation. Many organizations have diversified hiring practices, reaching out to communities and niche recruiters to find excellent talent, no matter where it comes from. They are aware of diversity as a business tactic, market growth strategy, workplace policy and social concept.

There’s no doubt many Canadian organizations, particularly in urban Canada, are increasingly diverse. But are they inclusive?

Inclusion encompasses not just who you are but how you do business and who you do business with. Truly inclusive organizations embed diversity in all aspects of an organization, from recruitment to procurement. In inclusive organizations, diversity is not just located on the shop floor but in the C-suite and boardrooms. It is a subtle but important shift towards embedding diversity in the DNA of an organization and its culture.

As corporate champions of diversity and inclusion have shown, getting it right means growth, new markets, higher profits, better ideas, a more loyal workforce and more loyal customers.

If diversity is about finding and hiring, then inclusion is about retention, loyalty, growth and cultivating leadership. As an organization becomes better at attracting and hiring diverse workers, it’s crucial to eliminate systemic barriers and develop inclusive talent management strategies that retain and promote this diverse talent.

An inclusive culture makes it easier for individuals to fit in and become part of a high-functioning team. An inclusive workplace enables an organization to embrace the diversity and richness of backgrounds and perspectives diverse employees bring and use their diverse talents to achieve business goals.

Make diversity a strategic priority

Creating an inclusive workplace begins with realizing people in other cultures may have different values from the majority.

To successfully bridge cultural differences, managers and employees need to understand and recognize the communication barriers that exist in cross-cultural interactions. These differences can be acknowledged in an organization’s recognition practices, celebrations and retention strategies.

Effective organizations recognize diversity is a strategic priority and leadership reinforces this value. Senior executive commitment to diversity may be the most important factor in influencing organizational commitment and effective practices.

Gordon Nixon, the Toronto-based president and CEO of RBC, is also chair of the bank’s Diversity Leadership Council, which develops and implements diversity strategies and goals.

Diversity should be integrated across all of an organization’s operations. RBC is one of the first financial institutions in Canada, for example, to establish a blueprint for diversity in procurement.

Similarly, the board of directors and the senior management at TD demonstrate their commitment through formal guidelines to ensure they promote diversity, including the advancement of members of visible minority groups.

TD’s Diversity Leadership Council implements enterprise-wide diversity initiatives and embeds diversity across the value chain, including policies and programs related to procurement. TD also attempts to embed inclusiveness within its customer and client communications.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

The business case for diversity and inclusion should be communicated at every opportunity. Communicating an organization’s commitment to diversity enhances its reputation and creates awareness among employees, suppliers, clients, educational institutions, the media and the public.

But don’t assume everyone “gets it” just because senior leaders have stated diversity and inclusion are a priority. An organization needs to make the business case internally and in a way all employees understand.

An organization’s strategy must be clearly understood by all contributors at all levels. Otherwise, they won’t know where the organization is going, what is expected of them, what their opportunities are or how their contributions will help the organization achieve strategic goals. Developing and communicating a strategic plan across an organization is essential to ensure each person understands how they individually and collectively contribute.

Focus more time and energy on educating managers, looking at succession lists and moving diverse employees into managerial positions.

Develop new and inclusive HR practices

As organizations become increasingly diverse, talent management strategies must also become more inclusive and consider the needs, values and motivators of diverse groups. Successful organizations create the infrastructure to recruit, hire, support, develop and retain top diverse talent. Good human resource practices include:

•working with diverse communities

•committing to bias-free hiring

•providing orientation to new recruits

•mandating internal diversity training

•creating mentoring and sponsorship programs

•developing networking programs for employees

•being transparent about all HR processes.

At RBC, an internal mentorship program considers diversity when matching mentors and mentees to promote advancement.

Similarly, making the promotional process more transparent, offering training and development, providing alter-
native pathways to promotion and focusing on competencies (instead of technical knowledge and experience) can result in increased leadership opportunities for visible minority employees.

Develop a pipeline for future leaders

Building a strong leadership talent pool requires an innovative and effective talent pipeline. This can be done by engaging workers in mentoring as well as reaching out to specific communities, specialized media, partners and non-profit organizations (which are sometimes more diverse).

For example, both TD and RBC support scholarships, school-age mentoring programs and youth awards. They also develop the pipeline by offering and promoting workshops and professional development programs.

Set targets, measure, report and assess results

In business, what gets measured gets done. As such, organizations that make a point of tracking and reporting results tend to have higher levels of diversity.

Reporting on diversity creates a solid foundation organizations can use to reflect on performance, consider policies and assess what can be done to improve diversity in senior leadership ranks.

For example, using an audit to forecast future openings over a five-year period will allow an organization to define skills and diversity gaps. The organization could then require the nominating committee to present a list of diverse candidates to help fill those gaps.

Creating an inclusive organization, where each and every employee is able to contribute fully, is a journey of many steps. Executive-level support, workforce metrics and progressive recruitment and talent management processes are all steps along that journey, leading to an innovative, successful and inclusive organization.

Ratna Omidvar is president of Maytree in Toronto, a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through
its policy insights, grants and programs. For more information, visit, and

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