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Cover image for Diversity vs Inclusivity: Understanding the Difference

Diversity vs Inclusivity: Understanding the Difference

molly_struve profile image Molly Struve (she/her) ・3 min read

One statement that really gets to me is when I hear people state that a requirement of an inclusive team is that it is diverse. While many inclusive teams are diverse, NOT all of them are. Diversity and inclusion are two different concepts. You can easily have either one without the other. Let me explain.

Definitions

I am very passionate about this distinction because I want our industry to become more inclusive AND diverse. In order to do that, everyone needs to understand and recognize the difference between these two words.

Diversity

is the state of being diverse or having a large variety.

Inclusivity

is the practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.

A diverse team has many different unique individuals. This should not only include the usual diverse selections such as religion, sex, age, and race, but ALSO additional unique personality characteristics such as introverts and extroverts, liberals and conservatives, etc.

One of the biggest distinctions here is that diversity is the who or the what^[1]. You physically have to have multiple people in order to achieve diversity. Inclusivity, on the other hand, is a mindset. You can have a team of one, which is not diverse, but, can be inclusive. Someone who has an inclusive mindset behaves in a way that welcomes and embraces diversity.

Why Does It Matter?

The reason I choose to write this post is to help educate people. I often hear people express the idea that an inclusive team HAS to be diverse. Many people feel that if a team is not diverse, then it must have a toxic environment. This is the stereotype I want to break. Don't judge a team based on how diverse it is, judge a team based on how inclusive the people are! No one wants to be judged on their looks, don't judge a team based on its composition.

Especially, at the very beginning when a team is small, it might not have had a chance to become diverse yet. If two male's start a company then should people discount joining them because their team is not diverse? Of course not! What you should be looking for when you are evaluating teams and jobs is not diversity, but inclusivity.

An inclusive team will lift you up and support you. No one on an inclusive team will judge you based on what you look like, what gender you identify with, what your sexual preferences are, etc. An inclusive team will embrace all of who you are and values you for your mind and what you bring to the table above all else. Next time you walk into an interview, don't look around the office looking for diversity. Instead, sit down and talk to as many people as you can and find out how they think. Find out how they act. Are they allies? Do they support those around them?

If a team is inclusive, as it continues to grow, it will naturally end up growing into a diverse team. However, at the very beginning, often those teams will not be diverse.

There are plenty of teams out there that are not diverse and DO have toxic cultures. I am not arguing that there aren't. My point is that when you walk into a place, if the team is not diverse, don't discount them right away. Especially if the team is small, give them a chance! If you talk to a couple people and you get red flags indicating a toxic environment, by all means, walkout the door. But don't judge a team based on how it looks before you talk to them.

On the flip side, there are diverse teams that have toxic cultures. Companies sometimes will hire marginalized individuals in order to check their "diversity" box. Be aware of this as well. If you let the diversity blind you to the actual team culture you could miss a lot of warning flags telling you it is not a great place to work.

Building A Better Tech World

I want more than anything for this industry to become more diverse! Diversity is going to bring new and innovative ideas which will allow the tech industry to continue to flourish. But in order to get there we first have to start with inclusivity. The vast majority of teams, in the beginning, are not diverse, but many are inclusive. Seek out those inclusive teams, and when you find one, hold on tight. An inclusive team can take you places you never dreamed of.

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Molly Struve (she/her)

@molly_struve

International Speaker 🗣 Runner 🏃‍♀️ Always Ambitious. Never Satisfied. I ride 🦄's IRL

Discussion

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I definitely understand and appreciate the point you're trying to make here, but I hesitate to agree that
"No one on an inclusive team cares about what you look like, what gender you identify with, what your sexual preferences are, etc. " In fact, a truly inclusive team supports and appreciates the unique characteristics that make you who you are, makes space for these, and appreciates the struggles that you deal with as a person. We are all the sum of our parts, and an inclusive team not only supports that but encourages it.

 

Thank you for pointing that out, I think you have expressed the point I am trying to make a lot better! I am going to tweak that wording to be more expressive of my point that inclusion means embracing diversity. Thank you again for the feedback, I really appreciate it!

 

An inclusive team will lift you up and support you. No one on an inclusive team will judge you based on what you look like, what gender you identify with, what your sexual preferences are, etc. An inclusive team will embrace all of who you are and values you for your mind and what you bring to the table above all else.

I think that makes my point more clear and has less ambiguity.

 

I agree with this in principle but is it a requirement for a team to be deemed truly inclusive that it "supports and appreciates the unique characteristics that make you who you are, makes space for these, and appreciates the struggles that you deal with as a person"? In other words, does there need to exist an attitude of any sort towards people's idiosyncrasies beyond tolerance, for the environment to be inclusive? I consider myself very inclusive but it manifests through my not concerning myself with other people's lifestyles - not because I disapprove, merely because I do not care about that stuff. Inclusivity, from my POV, means being open to working with anyone solely based on merits of their work effort, it doesn't have to extend past that.

 

We always valued the general ideas of diversity and inclusion in the abstract, but the road to diversity became way clearer when we shifted our mindset more towards inclusion. It's actionable and understandable.

Diversity is a lagging indicator on inclusion. But the two should correlate in some capacity. Truly inclusive environments will likely become more diverse over time.

Inclusion is an input you can affect. Diversity is an output you can measure.

 

Diversity is a lagging indicator on inclusion.

100% agree! I love that explanation! And the statement "Inclusion is an input you can affect."

I am passionate about this because when I first joined Kenna, 4 years ago, it was a 7 person all male dev team. Some might have discounted them and walked away due to the lack of diversity, but I didn't and boy am I glad I didn't. The team was inclusive and I NEVER felt like I was treated any differently than anyone else. Because of that inclusive culture, our team now is incredibly diverse. If I had initially judged the team based on their diversity I would have missed out working with some of the most incredible people.

 

The important thing here is that diversity cannot and should not be forced but it should come naturally in the course of time. Even inclusiveness comes naturally in orgs when one's heart is in the right place. If it doesn't come naturally, you may try to explain the concept of inclusiveness to them but it may not always work. You may bid adieu to such org and join another one as you said.

But having said that, there's also the danger of carrying the concept of inclusiveness too far. The problem is that like all other kinds of politics in orgs, the stand for inclusiveness has the potential to create its own kind of politics too. The danger being that the one championing for inclusiveness will try to bring in members of his/her own "ideology" than basing that decision purely on inclusiveness!

You see, there is a difference between being truly inclusive (having no regard for a person's caste, religion, gender, etc. while making a selection) and just selecting those who are strongly vocal or outspoken about your inclusiveness ideology. The latter gives rise to echo chambers and is in a way the exact anti-thesis of diversity, even though your selection may appear to be based on diversity and inclusiveness from the outset.

 

To me all this gives the excuse to be restrictive while branding it as diverse-friendly, rather than solely making decisions on talent and ability. To make true progress, we need to all take blinders off and look to what will make our companies, brands, apps, whatever, the most successful. In the end the result will likely be a far more diverse workplace than the pigeonholing alternatives of focusing so much on identity. It seems the more progressive we get the more we talk about identity. That seems counter to what it should be...just viewing people has human beings. The more groups and terminologies that are formed just perpetuate the focus on identity, which is exactly what we all worked so hard on fighting for many years.

 

It seems the more progressive we get the more we talk about identity. That seems counter to what it should be...just viewing people has human beings.

I struggle with this as well and feel the same way. Sometimes by forming these niche identity groups you are excluding other marginalized groups when in reality we should all be a single big group! Everyone is first and foremost human.

 

I hope by “take blinders off” you mean deconstruct centuries of white supremacist and patriarchal ideologies that were designed to justify taking resources through violence. Because that’s what would be necessary to “just view people as human beings” for the industry. ;-)

 

I simply mean let's focus on the individual, not their identity. Doing ANYTHING other than that is ultimately wrong. All I see is identity, identity, identity. Overcorrection should not be confused with correction.

I agree with the goal of focusing on the individual. If an individual’s identity is important to them, wouldn’t supporting the individual mean supporting their identity as well?

Sure, tolerance for all. I am talking about business decisions in the workplace. I think ability and talent is what should separate you or me, not race, gender, religion or otherwise. I know that sounds pie in the sky but my concern is that lately we've seen more talk about identity and its role in the workplace rather than what people bring to the table that will make the workplace successful (like profits for example). LinkedIn is notorious for this. All they do is push identity-laden articles. It just seems concerning to me. Ok, I'm done. I probably got more people mad at me today than I should have LOL. Peace and prosperity to all :)

Just one more note - Eli, I am willing to bet 1000 bucks you are a better developer than me. In a workplace setting you should be 100% recognized for that fact more so than anything else, such as your identity. It would be truly reflective of your talent, ability, work-ethic and so on.

Inclusion and diversity is a business decision as well. Organizations that neglect it early often struggle to compensate when they are larger, when it really affects their ability to recruit and build a product that appeals to and serves a diverse set of users.

I agree with you that public posturing is not an effective strategy for companies. Establishing inclusive internal policies and procedures in response to the needs of employees is usually much more effective than PR. Representation speaks for itself.

I also agree that we should focus on what makes a workplace successful. I think it’s important to recognize cultural competence as being just as important of a factor as development skills, since most digital products we build are global and require cultural competence at every level in order to build the best product. Especially when scaling a product to more users, which requires also scaling the organization’s understanding of their users and their experiences.

 

Thanks for posting...

As I was reading it, it seemed analogous to:

Judge a man team not by the color of his their skin skins, genders, etc, but by the content of their character - Martin Luther King Jr.

👆🏽Is that a correct interpretation?

 

That is a great "requote" and I would say that is spot on to the point I am trying to make!

 

Diversity and inclusion are mutually exclusive.

This is a little confusing--shouldn't it be our goal to have both? My understanding of the phrase "mutually exclusive" is that it means "you can't have both at the same time."

 

You are correct, I was interrupting "mutually exclusive" as meaning they aren't always correlated, that you can have one without the other. They are separate concepts that should be considered differently and not always as a pair.

I have updated the wording to be better. Thank you so much for the feedback! I am working really hard at trying to convey what is in my head and sometimes putting it in writing doesn't come out perfectly

 

I think this post is excellent. :) Thanks for clarifying.

 

Thank you so much for starting the conversation with this article!

As a brown, non-US woman in tech, I feel so much more welcome in an inclusive team instead of a diverse team. In a team that advertises itself as a diverse team, I can't stop feeling like the diversity candidate - as in, I will always be the outsider that others have to accommodate. Whereas on an inclusive team, I feel like I am a full-fledged member of the team, and feel enabled and empowered to include others.

 

Whereas on an inclusive team, I feel like I am a full-fledged member of the team, and feel enabled and empowered to include others.

This is how I feel every day at work and I am so thankful for it! Thanks for sharing your insight!

 

I really enjoyed reading this, more then I expected it too!

So often a single metric (Diversity) is confused with the actual goal (Inclusivity) and cause all kind negative stereotypes like people being surprised that an all male dev team can be welcoming to a woman.

The argument for inclusivity that the most people can get behind is that the best people for the job can be anyone, and thus it is best to be welcoming to everyone!

 

"Don't judge a team based on how diverse it is, judge a team based on how inclusive the people are!"

BOOM! 🌋

Great article Molly! You distill several important concepts and thoughts. Thank you!

 
 

I'm going to quote one of my favorite talks on last year's React Conf "Diversity is getting invited to the party, inclusivity is getting to dance too"

 
 

This a very thoughtful post, thanks for sharing! You explain the difference between these two concepts so well.

Your description of an inclusive team dynamic feels spot on. I think having a diverse team as early on as possible is a really important part of building that inclusive dynamic, and it can be hard to build that dynamic later.

A team that is not diverse is inevitably less inclusive for anybody who doesn’t fit the existing patterns (e.g. being a person of color in a majority white space), since they may not have people they can identify with in the organization. That takes a psychological toll that other people on the team may not experience.

Diversity is arguably even more important in the early stages of a company, because it’s a formational period for the company culture, and early employees are often offered leadership opportunities as well. I don’t agree with inclusivity first and diversity later, since later may become too late if the culture has crystallized. I think inclusion is a great frame as long as diversity is still an explicit and measured goal.

Without seeing someone like you supported within the organization, there is no concrete evidence that the team understands how to support people that fit your patterns yet. Some people are willing to help an organization through this learning process on top of doing the job they were hired for, but the additional labor is usually uncompensated if the company is not prepared to provide that additional support that may not have been necessary for other people that self-selected into the team.

I also don’t think diversity of personality or political views is a meaningful form of diversity to strive for, since there aren’t generational systems of oppression across those axes as there are on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, criminal record, neurodivergence, etc. There is the additional complication that diversity of personality is usually used to refer to a group of white people.

Thanks again for the thoughtful post. I appreciate you sharing your perspective on the topic. :-) I’d be curious to hear more about the signs you saw that Kenna has an inclusive culture, despite the all-male dev team when you joined.

 

Thank you for the incredibly thoughtful response. I definitely can see where you are coming from when you say that diversity ideally should come as early as possible to help the culture become inclusive. I never thought of it in that light but I would agree.

At Kenna, even though I was the first female on the dev team it was already comprised of people of color and different nationalities. When I interviewed I also noticed the different personality types between everyone on the team. Some people were quieter and more thoughtful while others were bubbly and personable. Seeing and hearing how all these different personalities thrived made me feel like I could find my spot here, I bet they would accept me and all my quirks. I think thats what inclusiveness does, it helps you feel at home because the people around you accept every piece of you.

 

I'm on a pretty small team now, and most of them are not only introverts, but shy introverts. In addition to increasing inclusivity/diversity of background, we could probably use some more extroverted and communicative sorts of people just to create a more welcoming and balanced kind of culture. Right now we're all huddled at our desks not talking to each other. Having many different types of personalities so that everyone can find their niche would definitely be a boon.

I also do think that while inclusiveness is critical for the wellbeing of the team, diversity is key for the wellbeing of the product or service you're creating. The ultimate goal is to make something for people, and that's best done when the team knows the people they're working for. The world itself is a diverse place, so lacking any bit of experience or knowledge means that you're missing that part of the world reflected in your output. (This also of course means that you have to listen to your team, not just tick off your diversity checklist!)

 

Allow me to get political for just a moment.

I've had encounters with more conservative-leaning folks in my work history so far that have very clearly problematic views. They are also the kind of folks who will scoff at the idea of Inclusivity, because to them, it means that their problematic views will be challenged and that makes them feel un-included.

For me that's a paradox, as these folks often neglect how non-inclusive and inappropriate their comments/thoughts/etc are, and when confronted with that reality, they react negatively.

I'm making this point only because I worry that bad faith actors will use this (and other similar articles) as an excuse to spread what others deem hateful, but what they deem honesty.

 

I think that the causation here is valid i.e. that inclusiveness eventually results in diversity. How fast? Depends on the team, the organization etc. The reverse - to insist on diversity from the outset even if it's at the expense of skill, makes zero sense - absent the necessary skill early on, the business may fail - and the diverse team will have to go on and find new jobs. Skill and inclusivity first, diversity as an eventual outcome, not the other way around.

 

I'm more in favour of inclusivity than diversity, as that term has been tainted for me. In my last job, the CEO was keen on pushing this diversity image to the point where people got sick of it. After things fell apart, one of the things I heard was that HR was telling recruiters to only put forward female developers. I want diversity to be a good word, but things like this make me dislike it.

For me inclusivity is "can you do your job" and "are you a good person", beyond that I just don't care. I don't want more things to factor into it and I don't want my traits to be used to increase "diversity". I'm not sure my post has a point, I just wanted to share my opinion (which I don't see that much elsewhere).

 

This is probably the best post about diversity that I ever read. It's like reading something that I already knew and felt but expressed and structured way better than I ever could in my head.

 

This is a great post, thank-you for writing it.

 

Definitely agree on this. Inclusivity is entirely controlled by the team/company, diversity is restricted by who applies.