Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in the Workplace

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at the workplace

The competition for top talent is intense, and the availability of talent is scarce. Therefore, businesses need to attract and hire a diverse workforce. If businesses fail to do so, they risk missing out on top talent and the benefits that naturally follow top talent – enhanced productivity and an edge over the competition. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that a business’s success is singularly dependent on its ability to foster an inclusive environment at work where diverse talent can thrive.

Diversity and Inclusion are more than just initiatives to be implemented. Business leaders need to understand that it is a mindset. The diversity and inclusion mindset must permeate the workforce and every aspect of its functioning. In such a workforce, people across the hierarchy and departments actively participate in building an inclusive workplace where everyone experiences a sense of safety, equity, and respect.

The top talent, while evaluating various organizations to work for, looks for other people like them at the top. For them, workplace culture matters, and they look to work in an organization with a culture that values myriad perspectives and promotes authentic, equitable, and respectful behaviour. Businesses that prioritize diversity and Inclusion and make it a business imperative realize superior business results through improved performance from every employee.

Table of Contents

What is workplace diversity?

The Gallup Report of 2018 provides the most accurate and succinct definition of diversity. It defines diversity as the “full spectrum of human demographic differences.” These differences encompass race, religion, education level, veteran status, gender, political beliefs, age, physical disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic class, etc.

Diversity in the workplace involves individuals with many or all of these ‘human differences.’ The Gallup report says that, increasingly, businesses recognize that diversity matters, and fostering workplace diversity is a ‘must do’ rather than a ‘nice to do’ initiative and is critical for both – ethical reasons and business success.

Accordingly, businesses now include diversity as an essential part of their HR policies. A diverse culture helps build a work environment where people with all manner of differences between them can work and thrive together.

What is workplace inclusion?

Workplace inclusion is a workplace environment that ensures that every employee in the organization feels a part of the team, feels valued, respected, and fully participates in the organization’s activities. A widely accepted, formal definition of workplace inclusion by SHRM is “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

A culture of Inclusion in the workplace conveys to the employees a feeling of belonging to the organization. In addition, inclusive workplaces make employees feel appreciated for their uniqueness. We encourage them to freely share their ideas and be authentic, which leads to enhanced employee engagement and greater innovation.

How are diversity and Inclusion related? How are they different?

On the surface, diversity and Inclusion appear to be the same thing. However, it often leads to some confusion. People often tend to use the two terms, diversity and Inclusion, interchangeably. Diversity and Inclusion, although related, are different. They are separate terms for two different concepts.

Organizations often mistakenly decide to pay particular attention to enhancing diversity in the workplace without laying the foundation that supports diversity. It is easy to hire a diverse workforce, but if the culture in the organization is not accepting of disparate perspectives.

So, how are the two related? Diversity is the ‘what’ of your workforce, and Inclusion is the ‘how .’Diversity deals with the composition of the workforce – gender, race, age, ethnicity, religion, etc. Inclusion, on the other hand, characterizes the prevalent culture that enables diversity to exist and thrive. Inclusion ensures that every individual’s contributions are valued, and all individuals have access to the same opportunities to perform at their best.

The presence of diversity does not automatically imply that the workplace is also inclusive. On the contrary, confusing diversity and Inclusion can result in workplaces lacking diversity and Inclusion, leading to such adverse consequences for organizations as:

  • A lack of Inclusion in the workplace impacts the psychological well-being of employees. When the employees do not feel secure psychologically, it decreases employee engagement and, consequently, their productivity at work.
  • Organizations incorporate D&I policies for ethical reasons and to aid their business objectives. Overlooking Inclusion will lead to a culture that deters employees from speaking freely and expressing their opinions. It leads to a loss of a potentially rich pool of ideas – adversely affecting business performance.
  • Diversity without Inclusion can prove to be meaningless. When not made to feel included, employees with diverse backgrounds will feel alienated and develop negative perceptions of the organization.

The differences between diversity and Inclusion can be summarised as follows:

Diversity Inclusion

Represents the differences between individuals in the organization – their race, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. Defines the set of policies and deliberate actions to make every individual feel valued and heard – despite their differences.

Ensures that different people are brought together in one workplace. The strategies and policies that enable ‘diverse’ people to work together.

Diversity brings heterogeneity to the workplace by ensuring no biases in the recruitment process. Inclusion ensures that all the employees feel valued and experience a sense of psychological well-being. It can be achieved if a culture of Inclusion exists. Enables diversity to exist.

Why are diversity and Inclusion in the workplace important?

Diversity and inclusion impact the workplace, the employees, and business results. The factors that make D&I important to organizations include:

  • Differing Perspectives. People from diverse backgrounds bring many perspectives that enrich the workplace and the work environment.
  • Improved Problem-Solving. Different approaches to looking at problems lead to a rounded analysis of the problems. D&I in organizations enables increased collaboration, greater creativity, and superior quality of work.
  • Organization Brand Value. Diversity demonstrates the organization’s commitment to providing equal opportunities to every employee. It creates a favorable perception of the organization – improving its value as a brand, and that in turn helps attract top talent to the organization.
  • Superior Business Results. Firms with diverse workplaces have been found to enjoy a 33-35% higher probability of outperforming the competition.
  • Increased Innovation. Innovation is essentially about people. A diverse and inclusive workplace brings together people with game-changing ideas to drive innovation. Diverse teams can design new ways to execute an innovative idea. It helps them iterate faster – saving costs. Diversity also enables better decision-making. A diverse team helps prevent poor decisions from being taken. Poor decisions alienate customers, damage the brand, slow growth, etc.

What is workplace belonging?

For humans, social belonging is a basic need. A 2019 article in the HBR highlighted that 40% of people felt isolated at work. It leads to reduced employee engagement and commitment at work. When employees feel they belong, the business realizes significantly superior business results through enhanced on-job performance, reduced turnover, greater engagement, enhanced productivity, lesser absenteeism, etc.

Belonging at work is the sense of community employees feel in the workplace. A sense of belonging comes from feeling valued by positive connections with co-workers. Humans are hardwired to find a sense of connection at work and home to satisfy their need to belong. Therefore, the sense of belonging deeply influences their comfort in being themselves and their performance at work.

For employees to develop a sense of belonging, the workplace environment should:

  • Make the employees feel comfortable at work. It requires that employees be treated fairly and respected by their co-workers and managers.
  • Enable employees to develop meaningful relationships with their colleagues and connect to organizational goals.
  • Provide employees with opportunities to understand how their strengths contribute to the organization’s aims. The sense of belonging is also enhanced when employees understand how their work is a meaningful contribution to the organization.

Some of the common signs you can use to identify a lack of belonging among employees include:

  • Absence of communication
  • Poor performance at work
  • Lowered productivity
  • High absenteeism
  • Conflict, indifference, and a lack of collaboration
  • Unwillingness to share feedback and not asking for feedback
  • Playing truant or feigning sickness
  • No effort to learn or accept new challenges
  • High employee turnover

An increased sense of workplace belonging improves job performance, reduces employee turnover, reduces absenteeism, increases employer net promoter score, increases employee engagement, and enhances employee experience. Progressive organizations gather data to measure the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce and the impact of belonging on business results.

The factors that enable organizations to foster a sense of belonging and enhance employee experience include:

  • Organizational Culture. An organization’s culture is the set of values, beliefs, and practices that determines how work gets done. Building a culture that enables a sense of belonging requires organizations to assure employees that decisions in the organization are based on the equitable representation of diverse individuals. The organization’s culture should promote openness and dialogue across differences. The organization should also provide employees with the autonomy to decide on how they will collaborate – depending on their working styles and work requirements.
  • Leadership. Leadership plays a key in the building of belonging in the organization. The conduct of the leaders has a major influence in demonstrating how fairness, respect, and safety are valued in the organization. Leaders need to understand employees’ expectations to feel that they belong. Leaders must look out for workplace policies/practices that might benefit a certain section of employees and change them so that the policies are equitable. Leaders need to support historically disadvantaged groups by removing obstacles at work.
  • Inter-Personal Relationships. The feeling of belonging increases when employees are encouraged to be involved and contribute. Having the space to freely air their opinions, engage in open discussions, and feel connected to colleagues enhances the sense of belonging. Interpersonal relationships are strengthened when employees can engage with each other in meaningful and inclusive ways. Inter-personal relationships are enhanced when employees take a genuine interest in each other, leaders promote collaboration, and the organization celebrates employees’ successes.

Leaders aiming to build organizations where everyone feels that they belong should be mindful of certain essential aspects, which include:

  • Understand the Challenge. Before building an organization where everyone experiences a sense of belonging, the organization must understand what it means to belong, what gives employees a sense of belonging, and how belonging improves employee experience.
  • Know your Employees. It is important to gather qualitative and emotional data on the employees’ views on trust, collaboration, diversity, Inclusion, influence, etc. This data can be gathered through suitably designed interviews and focus group discussions. Such an understanding will help the leaders to understand their employees’ values and needs.
  • Use the Data. The qualitative and quantitative data collected should then be analyzed to identify areas of improvement in interpersonal interactions, organizational leadership, and workplace culture.
  • Design the Solution. Prioritize the areas of improvement identified and work on building and enhancing a sense of belonging. In the design of the solution, involve the employees – it is the surest way to make them feel valued and included.
  • After the solution has been designed, roll out the implementation. As part of the implementation, mark the baseline and include means to measure and monitor progress on becoming a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees experience a strong sense of belonging.

The differences between diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

To reiterate some of what has been discussed above, diversity is a measure of the characteristics that make people unique. Inclusion defines the behaviour and the organizational culture that makes people feel welcomed. Finally, belonging, distinct from the other two terms, describes the individual’s feeling of acceptance in an organization.

They are building a diverse and inclusive workplace where employees feel that they belong to active contributions from every employee. But, first, employees must broaden their understanding of their unconscious biases, listen to what their colleagues say, and help others speak.

Belonging arises from these actions and behaviours of employees, and everyone feels accepted as a member of the group and at the same time feels connected to the organization. The craving to belong is inherent in humans. Unsurprisingly, the need for love and belonging is placed exactly midway in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Belonging has a significant impact on motivation. When employees feel included and valued, they feel motivated to give their best and experience fulfilment in their work. Inclusion and belonging are connected. If the organization is not inclusive, it is difficult for people to feel that they belong regardless of their shared values or motivation.

For an organization to be diverse and inclusive and offer a sense of belonging to its employees, it needs to :

  • Build a foundation of diversity and inclusivity. This foundation of a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace is a non-negotiable for people to feel that they belong.
  • Create a sense of purpose. People look for purpose in their work. They feel a sense of purpose when they can align their values with the mission and vision of the organization.
  • Make a conscious effort. Diversity, Inclusion, and belonging will only come through conscious, planned, and directed effort.
  • Informed leadership. Trust is an important element of building an inclusive and accepting workplace. It requires the leadership to lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to building a diverse and inclusive organization. Leaders should also be willing to be held accountable for their failures and successes in building an inclusive organization.

Types of diversity in the workplace

Diversity in a workplace can be of different types. Some may be visible from the outside, and some internal to the organization. The types of workplace diversity include:

  1. Internal Diversity. This type of diversity includes aspects that a person is born into. Typically, a person has no power to change these diversities. These include race, ethnicity, country of origin, culture, etc.
  2. External Diversity. External diversities comprise characteristics that a person is not born into but are acquired by the person. The person can change these characteristics. External diversities include education, religion, work location, socioeconomic status, citizenship, etc.
  3. Organizational Diversity. Organizational diversity is present in every organization. Examples of organizational diversity include job function, geographical location, departments, and hierarchical structure.
  4. World Views. The differences in the world views of the individuals also contribute to diversity. People’s worldviews are shaped by their unique experiences, history, political and religious beliefs, etc.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace

Building diverse and inclusive workplaces is more than just a trend to be followed. The benefits that organizations derive from fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace include:

  • Enhanced Employee Engagement. The more the employees feel valued and accepted in the workplace, the more they are engaged with the organization and their work. Employees work more efficiently when they are engaged and feel that their efforts and voices matter and add value to the organization.
  • Increased Innovation. People from different backgrounds and abilities can develop varied ideas and innovative solutions at work. Several studies have shown that organizations with diversity and Inclusion are likely to be more innovative.
  • Improved Business Results. A diverse and inclusive firm realizes superior business results through increased revenue and profits. Enhanced employee engagement improves employee retention and innovation, leading to increased revenue and profits.
  • Superior Decision Making. A diversity of voices in the workplace enables the expression of diverse perspectives and ideas. It improves the decision-making process. A variety of insights enables issues to be examined from multiple viewpoints – leading to superior decision-making.
  • Reduced Employee Turnover. A diverse and inclusive organization accepting varied voices creates a sense of belonging. It encourages employees to stay on in the organization. It reduces turnover and improves retention. When employees are motivated to stay, they perform better. Reduced turnover enables cutting down on costs of recruiting and onboarding new hires – all of which contribute to superior business results.
  • Improves Company Culture. Company culture is significantly impacted by the level of diversity and Inclusion in the company. Employees prefer working with diverse groups. It helps them build an outlook that is free of unconscious biases. Diversity fosters healthy interpersonal relationships, expands their worldview, and nourishes the continued growth of the company’s culture.
  • Boost to Company Brand. Building a reputation as a firm that supports and encourages diversity and Inclusion in the workplace burnishes the company’s brand value. A positive brand identity attracts top talent, and the company reaps the benefits of all the accompanying positive fallout.

Implementing a diverse and inclusive workplace

Implementing diversity and Inclusion in the workplace requires the organization’s leaders to be open to new ideas, listen to varied perspectives, and solicit company-wide collaboration.

For effective implementation of a diverse and inclusive workplace, organizations need to:

  • Make the right beginning. Diversity and Inclusion affect every stage of an organization’s growth. It helps attract and hire the right employees and provides them with the best employee experience. No detail is too minor to be ignored in the implementation process. Pay attention to even how the job description is written. The job description must be audited to ensure that it contains inclusive language.

Actively reaching out to under-represented groups is required to bring diversity and Inclusion to the workplace. In addition, diversity hiring will enable the organization to tap into a larger talent pool.

Set strategic goals that clearly define what the organization aims to achieve. These goals could include – increasing diversity at all levels of the organization, providing opportunities for professional development among marginalized and underrepresented groups, and fostering an equitable and inclusive workplace environment.

  • Leverage Data. Although it is easy to measure diversity, Inclusion and belonging are difficult to assess. Regular pulse surveys must be undertaken to assess Inclusion and belonging. The data obtained from these surveys must then be acted upon. Analyzing available data will help establish a benchmark and enable monitoring the progress of implementation and applying course correction where required.
  • Obtain Feedback. In addition to periodic pulse surveys, it is also important to initiate a one-on-one dialogue with employees to obtain feedback on their experience in the workplace. Obtaining feedback and acting on it is the first step in building an inclusive workplace. Exit interviews are also a good means of obtaining honest feedback.
  • Eliminate Unconscious Bias. Organizations need to engage with their teams, especially those recruiting, to sensitize them about the inherent unconscious biases in all humans. This sensitization will make employees more self-aware and reduce the likelihood of them unknowingly excluding their colleagues from opportunities. Many progressive organizations are already using AI-enabled tech tools to eliminate unconscious biases in the hiring process.
  • Educate the Leaders. For diversity and Inclusion to be sustained, the leadership team in the organization needs to internalize Inclusion to manage the diverse workforce. Leaders trained on inclusive policies will then be able to ensure that the employees feel included.
  • Diversity Training. Institute Diversity and inclusion training for all levels of the hierarchy. Such training will enable employers and employees to work effectively with people from different backgrounds by equipping them with the skills required to communicate and collaborate in the workplace.
  • Take a Transparent Stance. Employees are now vocal about their expectations of diversity and Inclusion. Organizations must take a transparent stance on the subject that makes their support for diversity and Inclusion clear.

Challenges in building a diverse and inclusive workforce

The business case for building diversity and Inclusion in the workplace is clear. Many businesses have acknowledged the benefits of diversity and Inclusion and have committed themselves to improving diversity and Inclusion for business benefits and to fulfil their social responsibilities. However, several challenges slow down any real progress. The challenges that hinder progress include:

  • Leadership Diversity. Diversity in the board and the top leadership demonstrates the opportunity for diverse employees to nurse ambitions of advancing to the top. However, a lack of diversity in leadership deters some employees from reaching leadership levels. The underrepresentation of women at the board level and in the C-suite is an acknowledged challenge to increasing women’s presence in the boardroom and the C-suite.
  • Pay Disparities. Pay disparities based on gender and race draw negative attention to the organization. Resolving these pay disparities requires consistent focus and continuous work to remove the barriers and biases that cause these disparities.
  • The key factor holding back faster progress on diversity and inclusion goals is the lack of accountability of the top management for the attainment/nonattainment of diversity goals.
  • In-Group Pushback. The focus on increasing workplace diversity could cause pushback from majority groups. It is important to be mindful of this. For example, in the US, white men account for only 37% of the population. However, they account for over 70% of senior leadership positions and an even higher percentage of CEOs. Any effort to bring in diversity in leadership positions could cause pushback from the in-group of white men due to a perceived loss.
  • Immigration and Employment Laws. An operational challenge that could stop the induction of many merit-based diversity hires could be the existing laws around immigration and employment.
  • Navigating immigration and employment laws can be difficult. It is an operational challenge that can prevent many merit-based diversity hires from being executed. It might prompt companies just to hire locally available talent even though this means losing out on the best of the available talent. To overcome this challenge, companies could work with the local governments to streamline laws to benefit from merit-based diversity. The increased acceptance of full-time remote work has enabled firms to use digital collaboration tools to hire the best available talent without relocating.
  • Potential for Conflict. It is a common issue in workplaces with merit-based diversity where the workforce comprises people of different backgrounds, ages, education levels, races, etc. Conflict could arise due to the different viewpoints and different approaches to work. This can be prevented through proper training. Firms need to create a culture where employees seek to discuss different perspectives.
  • Risk of Uniformity. Uniformity in the workforce can develop even with merit-based hiring. It happens when a firm does not have a multifaceted hiring strategy. Consider a firm with an incomplete measure of excellence for its hiring – such as having a degree from an Ivy Leagues college. If this hiring strategy is pursued, with time, it may lead to a workforce of employees having similar education and similar work histories. Preventing this uniformity requires a carefully thought-out hiring strategy based on multiple decision-making criteria.

Tools to use while building a diverse and inclusive workplace

When starting, launching a diversity and inclusion initiative might seem like a difficult challenge. The approach that works for one organization need not work for another. Organizations need to consider conditions that are unique to them to design their diversity and inclusion strategies.

The important tools that help in the building of a diverse and inclusive workplace include:

Pre-Implementation Survey. Initially, for a preliminary assessment of the diversity and Inclusion existing in the organization, the employee engagement survey results can be used. It will give an overall idea of where the organization is doing well and where it needs to improve.

For example, an engagement survey question, “Do my opinions count at work?” will tell you if the employees think their voices are being heard based on who they are. As another example, an engagement survey question – “Do people at work treat each other with respect?” tells whether employees are respected for who they are.

Such questions from the engagement survey will provide a big picture of the existing D&I conditions. In addition, this can become the starting point to dig deeper into specific aspects such as gender, age, ethnicity, race, etc.

During the pre-implementation survey, it is also important to account for intersectionality. Intersectionality defines how the various types of discrimination interact. For example, a person’s age, race, and gender, when combined, influence a person’s workplace experience. When designing a survey, one needs to consider peer demographics and combine demographics to obtain deeper insights. Intersectionality data such as position level and gender will give data on the perceptions of male and female leaders.

Most importantly, the pre-implementation survey should have a clear purpose. You should not look for the problems you are attempting to solve after the survey data is available. Before the survey itself, you should know what you are looking for. Once the survey data is available, you should be able to analyze the data to glean the required insights.

To understand what employees think of diversity, Inclusion, fairness, belonging, etc., the survey questions that could be included are:

  • Does everybody have an opportunity to succeed in the organization?
  • Are people managed such that they can improve their skills and competencies?
  • Do you trust the organization to be fair with everyone?
  • If you raised a discrimination complaint, are you confident that the organization would stand by what is right?
  • Do you feel you belong here?
  • Can you relate to the leaders in the organization?
  • Is the senior leadership equipped to efficiently manage a diverse workforce?
  • What more can be done to improve diversity and Inclusion in the organization?
  • Do the people you work with treat each other with respect?
  • Is workforce diversity valued in the organization?
  • Are you included in the decisions that affect your work?

In addition, the pre-implementation survey should also assess perceptions of psychological well-being at the organization and team levels. For this purpose, the survey questions could include:

  • Do you bring your whole self to work?
  • If you observe something wrong at work, would you feel comfortable reporting it?
  • Does your organization value diverse opinions and ideas?
  • Do you feel empowered to make decisions that impact your work?
  • Can you have disagreements and fruitful debates within the organization?
  • Does your manager encourage different ideas and opinions to be expressed?
  • Is an honest mistake at work unfairly held against you?
  • Can you have free and frank discussions on difficult/uncomfortable subjects?
  • At team meetings, is everyone encouraged to speak up?
  • Do you feel comfortable bringing up workplace problems/issues with your manager?
  • What more do you think can be done to improve decision-making?
  • What can be done for all team members to have a chance of being heard?

Implementation Checklist. Almost always, diversity and Inclusion are mentioned together. It is so since diversity cannot exist without an inclusive organization. Building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive organization requires significant time, effort, and resources. A checklist to identify gaps on the path to implementation of diversity and Inclusion should include:

  • Remove biases from job descriptions
  • Expand sourcing networks
  • Institute blind resume screening
  • Specify objective hiring criteria
  • Include diversity in hiring teams
  • Standardized behaviour-based interviewing based on objective hiring criteria
  • Same/similar questions for all the candidates
  • Opportunities for contractors, interns, and vendors to graduate to become full-time employees

Issues on the checklist regarding employee assessment and advancement include:

  • Transparent assessment and promotion policies
  • Uniform evaluation cycles
  • Adequate time for evaluation to prevent reversion to stereotypes
  • Training for managers on fair and objective assessments
  • Fair and robust pay equity processes
  • Institute formal grievance redressal and remediation processes

Checklist points concerning employee well-being include:

  • Provision for parental leave and time off for caretaking
  • Support for childcare and eldercare
  • provision for healthcare benefits

The checklist should cover safeguards against sexual harassment in the workplace to support diversity and Inclusion. These safeguards include:

  • Promulgate a strict sexual harassment policy
  • Institute a robust whistleblower policy
  • Put in place a transparent reporting mechanism
  • Educate staff on what constitutes sexual harassment, the reporting mechanism, and the punitive consequences
  • System to hold leaders accountable

Post-Implementation Checkpoint Quiz

The cliche that only what gets measured gets done is true for diversity and inclusion programs too. Post-implementation, it is important to have a predefined set of goals and metrics to check the effectiveness and ensure accountability and improvements.

Diversity can be easily measured through a headcount. Measuring inclusion requires greater effort. The post-implementation checkpoint quiz includes questions such as:

  • Did you experience bias in selection, promotion, compensation, or development opportunities?
  • Do you perceive a glass ceiling to your advancement?
  • Are you able to express yourself freely, is your opinion valued, and do you feel that your work is adding value?
  • Do you sense a feeling of belonging to the organization?


In today’s globalized world, workplaces must reflect a world without boundaries. Therefore, workplaces need to promote representation by supporting diversity and Inclusion. It is more than just a moral and ethical choice. Strong diversity and Inclusion policies can power growth and deliver superior business results for organizations.

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Sita Ravinatula

Sita Ravinatula