One of the terms that is very commonplace today is that of diversity.  It is found in many disciplines and situations.  Business leaders are called upon to consider diversity as a way of improving their workforce.  But more specifically, they are told that it leads to improved performance.  Therefore, many organizations encourage their leaders to embrace it as a means of improving their performance.

Diversity Is Not Tolerance?

Some leaders speak in terms of promoting tolerance among different groups in their organizations, and pride themselves in hiring peoples from different race and ethnic communities.  They may also hire individuals from the gay and lesbian community, and may include among their employees people who may have physical and mental challenges.  What is often stressed is the idea that there is tolerance in these organizations for people who are different.

Diversity and Social Justice

Schools are encouraged to pay attention to diversity, because this is a way of bringing about better relations among individuals. Diversity is also seen to allow for people who are discriminated against to gain opportunities that they were previously denied.  Community leaders often speak of diversity as a means of achieving social justice.  If community members show respect for diversity, meaning that if they treat individuals fairly, that much conflict that develops in society would be reduced. Also, more individuals would be able to reach their potential.

Diversity Must Be Paired With Inclusion

While all of these ideas often yield some fruit, meaning that diversity leads to improved relations among people, there is an important element that is often left out of it.   Diversity must be paired with inclusion.  True diversity cannot take place unless inclusion is seen as a necessary part of it.  As Swiegers and Toohey (2013) point out in their research study on diversity in business, that “feelings of inclusion are comprised of perceptions of (i) fairness and respect; and (ii) value and belonging. Moreover we can confidently say that these are separate concepts and build upon each other sequentially. This means that to feel highly included, a person would not only say that they are treated fairly and respectfully, but that their unique value is known and appreciated, and they belong to the group.”

Feeling of Belongingness

While these were found to be an important concepts relevant to diversity in business, they can also be seen to be important in it in other settings.  If organizations or community groups are to say that they favour diversity, then they have to make sure that they also pursue inclusion.  Diversity is therefore not only about having diverse bodies within one’s setting, but also having these bodies feel that the setting is fair to them, that they are respected and valued and that the belong to the setting.  Without diverse bodies feeling that they belong to the organization or group, then these diverse bodies would not feel included.


We Can All Practice Diversity

We can all practice diversity.  This does not mean that we tolerate other people who are different from us. This means that we treat other people fairly by making them feel included, respected and valued.  Fair treatment does not mean equal treatment, but treatment that allows all people to have fair access.   This often means making adjustments for those who have been unfairly treated, who did not have the opportunity to develop the capabilities to achieve certain things. Not providing the added advantages to eliminate the barriers now can be considered a continuation of unfair treatment.  Therefore, telling individuals that we are for diversity would not work, if we do not make them feel that they truly belong.

Why Diversity Does Not Work Sometimes

For those who are seen as “other”, the drumbeat of diversity may appear very faint.   A reason for this is very likely that the organization in which they work may tell them that they are embracing diversity, that they are hiring more of those who are seen as “other”, but in fact, the organization may be overlooking the important element of making them feel a sense of belonging. As Swiegers and Toohey (2013) observe of inclusion:  “This means that to feel highly included, a person would not only say that they are treated fairly and respectfully, but that their unique value is known and appreciated, and they belong to the group.”  


Whether we are leaders of organizations, co-workers, community leaders, or individuals, understanding that diversity and inclusion go hand is an important factor in promoting a harmonious community where all people feel valued, respected, appreciated and belonging.


Swiegers, G. & Toohey, K. (2013). Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance.  Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.

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