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Putting Inclusion First

Diversity is inevitable now, so creating a culture of inclusion becomes the greater—and more crucial—challenge for all of us.


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)—or inclusion, equity and diversity (IE&D), as we at SHRM prefer to call it—has significantly evolved over the last three decades. First it was just diversity, next D&I, then DE&I, and now, in many instances, DEIB+. But through every iteration, we’ve found our nation becoming increasingly polarized. 

We stand now at a critical point in our country’s history, a time when we must choose if we will be a generation that embraces IE&D, or if we will throw in the towel altogether, concluding that our nation is too divided and our differences too great to be able to bridge the gap and effect real change. 

Up until this point, organizations have made a lot of failed attempts at DE&I, with “solutions” including attacking those holding a different viewpoint, sweeping issues under the rug and hoping they go away, and pouring money into programs that look good on the outside but, statistically, produce little to no results. But despite our best endeavors, we’re still not seeing lasting change take root in our organizational cultures. 

Is this a reason to give up? Absolutely not. America’s diversity is its strength, and therefore, we must carefully and honestly assess what has worked and what hasn’t.

To start, we need to spend fewer resources on creating diversity, which already exists, and more on inclusion. The data reveals that America’s demographics are shifting. The 2020 U.S. Census shows that the white population, though still the largest racial group, has declined for the first time, and the number of people who identify as multiracial has more than tripled since 2010. We also know that our higher education institutions and workplaces have far more women than at any other time in our history. All indicators say that we are only going to grow more demographically diverse as a nation.

So, with diversity established as inevitable, creating a culture of inclusion becomes the greater—and more crucial—challenge. 

Inclusion operates as the functional arm of diversity. In a diverse group, inclusion says that everyone feels heard and seen and that each person feels welcome to share their individual knowledge and experiences. Inclusion makes room for healthy disagreement and says that, when expressed respectfully, differences of opinion serve to strengthen us collectively. And, perhaps most importantly, inclusion brings empathy into the equation, reminding us that we’re speaking with fellow human beings with real, lived experiences and emotions. 

Not only is IE&D the right thing to do, it’s also a smart business move. Overall, IE&D makes us stronger as an organization, promoting creativity, collaboration and problem-solving on a whole new level. It’s the key to unlocking our potential, tapping into new markets and cultivating brand loyalty among a global audience. And it’s critical for employee attraction, retention, innovation and productivity—all business imperatives in today’s economy.

At the end of the day, IE&D is simply too important to not get right. We must embrace our diversity and create a true culture of inclusion. Only then will we truly have a world of work that works for all. 

Easier said than done? Of course. But it’s too important for all business leaders, and HR leaders in particular, to avoid tackling and resolving.   

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Photograph by Cade Martin for HR Magazine.

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