Diversity and/or inclusion?

Anthony Haynes writes: The phrase ‘diversity and inclusion’ has become a collocation — the first noun very often associates with the second.

I am always suspicious of such pairings. Such phrases (‘health and safety’ is another) encourage people to think of the two phrases as amounting to much the same thing in the end — as if the phrase came hyphenated (‘diversity-and-inclusion’). As a result, the meanings of the terms can become blurred.

It can be enlightening then to prise the two terms apart (so ‘diversity / inclusion’) in order to explore the relationships between them.


So I was intrigued to read a post called ‘Why diversity isn’t the same as inclusion and why you should care‘ (Shirley Engelmeier, InclusionInc, 10 Jan). Engelmeier’s argument is that:

‘diversity and inclusion are not the same and our misuse and misplaced focus on these terms, we believe, have hindered our ability to make progress when it counts — in boosting the success of our businesses’.

According to Engelmeier, ‘Diversity, we believe, is a tired term that has led many companies down the wrong path. Diversity represents the differences between us’.

In contrast, ‘What is meaningful is what we are doing to seek the input and hear the voices of those different types of people–that’s inclusion’.


Is Engelmeier right? I have mixed views.

On the one hand, it’s welcome that Engelmeier explores the relationship between the two terms. But I feel that Engelmeier’s post misses the mark. Does anyone actually believe the terms are exact equivalents? Close in meaning, yes, may be — but precise synonyms? I doubt that.

For one thing, they’re  different kinds of concepts, so it’s difficult to use the terms simply as substitutes. For example, you could say that ‘a workforce exhibits diversity’, whereas the construction ‘a workforce exhibits inclusion’ sounds very awkward and unidiomatic.


That’s why I resist the argument that we should see the terms as alternatives — as if we should favour inclusion rather than diversity. I can’t see there’s a choice between the tw0. We need both.

The concepts, diversity and inclusion, are not logically parallel. Rather there is — or, at least, can be — a causal relationship between the two. For example, diversity in the workforce can stimulate greater inclusion — by, for example, encouraging a range of ideas or by accessing a greater range of networks.

I do wonder whether Engelmeier is in effect referring to policies rather than concepts. That is, in favouring inclusion over diversity, is she favouring inclusion policy over diversity policy?

I also wonder whether in places she is thinking of ‘inclusiveness’ rather than ‘inclusion’ — it can be easier to use ‘inclusiveness’ as a grammatical substitute for ‘diversity’ (e.g. ‘the workforce exhibits inclusiveness’).


I don’t mean to dismiss Engelmeier’s post: I have found it genuinely thought-provoking.

I do agree with her conclusions in one respect: I agree that ‘diversity and inclusion are not the same’.

But I disagree with her conclusions in two ways.

1. Precisely because they’re not the same, we need both terms (and both concepts), not one instead of the other.

2. And so, if ‘diversity’ has indeed become a cliché, we need to refresh it (in part, by exploring its relationship to ‘inclusion’) rather than dispense with it.




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