Who’s Norm Is It Anyway? Examining The Difference Between Diversity & Inclusivity

I recently had the enormous pleasure of speaking with Jenny Knott. I’ve known Jenny for a number of years and have found her to be an enormous source of inspiration and knowledge. In fact, Jenny is one of the two people in my life who helped me to actually understand blockchain. The other person was my wife. 

Jenny comes from a working-class background and has worked in predominantly male environments throughout her career. She’s a passionate advocate for inclusivity in the workplace, and in our interview, which you can listen to in full above, we discussed how diversity and inclusivity are actually very different. 

One thing we discussed was the difference between a numerically diverse workplace and an actually inclusive workplace. What do I mean by this?

Jenny raised the example of Lehman Brothers. They certainly ticked all the boxes from a diversity perspective. At one time, they had more black, female, and Asian leaders within their company than any other organisation on Wall Street. They reported this as such in their annual report.  

But were they actually an inclusive organisation? Arguably, not really.

Were they an innovative organisation? Absolutely not. 

And they did not survive the 2008 financial crisis. 

To better understand the difference between diversity and inclusivity, let’s define what they actually are.

What is diversity in the workplace? 

A diverse workplace is one that has people with a wide variety of characteristics. This can encompass race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic background.

Diversity doesn’t mean your workplace values these differences or makes accommodations for them. It simply means that there your workforce is filled with people from different backgrounds and circumstances.

What is inclusivity in the workplace?

You can have a diverse workforce without having an inclusive workplace. 

Inclusivity is how people are actually treated at work. An inclusive workforce is one where all employees are able to participate at every level of the workforce.

Think of it like this: diversity is who is in your workplace, inclusion is how they’re treated within that workplace.

Inclusivity is about a balanced relationship within the workplace

A topic Jenny and I discussed was the idea of “the norm”. Diversity implies you have people from a variety of different backgrounds, but the implication is they are outside “the norm”. 

Who’s norm?

I have wondered whether the diversity revolution is actually a white, middle-class, western revolution.  

Inclusivity is about saying what norm? What standard? Genuine inclusivity says there is no norm which is the preferred behaviour here. In society, the “norm” or “status quo” is often seen as that of a white, middle-class, male one. 

There is a type of inclusivity that says “Yes, I will invite you into my Western, middle-class behaviour of norms.” In other words, it still others. It suggests you are being invited into a space that has been built specifically for someone else. 

True inclusivity says yes, I absolutely care about where you come from and about your background because it brings richness to my own viewpoint and our organisation. It’s going to make me think differently. It will make me consider things that I have not considered before. It’s about building an all-encompassing space that doesn’t focus on any particular “norm”.

How inclusivity impacts how innovative your organisation can be

We have a far more in-depth discussion during our conversation, but Jenny raised an excellent point I’ve been pondering since. A company without inclusivity is a company that is bound to stagnate. 

An example Jenny uses in trainers. When you look at the senior leadership of a global trainer company… Does their board of directors look like their consumer base? Probably not.

But why does this matter?

Because human nature is to prioritise issues close to you. If your board shares many of the same experiences and values, you’re going to focus on a very small circle of needs. 

Think about lace-up trainers. There are many people for who lace-up trainers are not necessarily an accessible option. For example, look at Michael J Fox who has been incredibly public about his Parkinson condition. His condition has made certain motor tasks very difficult, including lacing up shoes. His work with Nike on self-lacing trainers, which were later auctioned to fund Parkison’s research, was widely applauded. 

Nike now sells a number of accessible trainers that don’t require lacing. The question remains if Nike had not worked with someone this issue had directly impacted, would the changes have been made? 

This is why inclusivity in the workplace matters. You will be able to better represent your consumer base and take a far more inclusive look at the world at large. 

You can impact inclusivity even from outside of an organisation 

If you’re not in a position of leadership, it may seem like a futile conversation. You know why inclusivity is important, but how can you make the world a more inclusive place?

Jenny is a big proponent of voting with your wallet. Rewarding companies who represent you and your value with your patronage. Companies have no choice but to adapt to their consumer needs. If enough of their consumers are willing to speak out and say actually, we don’t feel like you represent our values at all… Change can be forced.

Your skillset is another good way. While we don’t always have the luxury of being able to move, prioritising working at places that do value inclusivity will help you shine. You can help companies who reflect their consumers and drive forwards on issues you care about thrive, leading the way for other organisations. 

Do you want to find out more about leadership? I am a coach-mentor who specialises in developing top-level leaders and organisational cultures. My book ‘How Successful Leaders Do Business With Their World’ is filled with information on leadership and inclusive work cultures.

You can also get in touch with me here.