Strategies that position diversity and inclusion for success


Consider these powerful ways to better position and embed diversity and inclusion as strategic priorities, and not optional add-ons.
Smiling young female adaptive athlete getting advice from adaptive basketball coach during practice on summer evening
Workers at every level are disengaging from workplaces that feel exclusionary and disrespectful. | Image source: Getty Images

The business case for why diversity, equity, and inclusion matter at work is stronger than ever. There is a growing body of research that points to superior financial performance and cultivating Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) at work. 

McKinsey’s Diversity Wins report is one such significant research that “shows not only that the business case remains robust but also that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.”

Therefore, the current organisational challenge is not so much about being unconvinced of D&I benefits, but of failing to have impact of diversity programs. The investment in D&I efforts adds to this frustration. If investment was proportionate to returns, organisations would report more inclusion, respect, belonging, and talent retention at work.

On the contrary, the ongoing Great Resignation and quiet quitting paint a different picture. Workers at every level are disengaging from workplaces that feel exclusionary and disrespectful, and create untenable situations for employees and their wellbeing.

The message of inclusion and belonging has obviously missed the mark. A significant part of this issue can be attributed to faulty positioning of D&I efforts that often undermine efforts.

Consider these powerful ways to better position and embed diversity and inclusion as strategic priorities, and not optional add-ons.

1. Move away from ‘us vs them’ narratives

Siloed approaches that don’t consider how D&I efforts might land for employees undermine inclusion. The message that inclusion benefits everyone, and exclusion hurts everyone, is still a muted one that needs amplification. Whether it’s gender equality or racial inclusion, it doesn’t take long for a good cause to morph into a divisive message. Even leaders can take sides when they are expected to set the tone for balance. Messaging is vital to create a unified front on diversity. For example, it’s unhelpful to frame gender equality as a women’s issue. This encourages men to sit on the sidelines or worse still, turn adversarial. Irrespective of the cause, D&I needs to be mindfully positioned as promoting ‘inclusion for all’.

2. Treat it as a business and strategic priority

D&I efforts often start as a reaction to issues that showed the organisation in poor light. But this reactionary approach doesn’t always translate into long-term vision. To add to this, leaders can miss seeing D&I as a strategic move and fail to integrate it into business plans and strategy. This gap is visible to onlookers, who see inclusion of diversity as opportunistic, and not a strategy that informs business decisions. If inclusive practices have to help employees belong at the workplace, then D&I must connect to the organisation’s future. Management actions also need to align with believing that business ambitions will be achieved because of valuing and including differences, and not despite them.

3. Shift to inclusive recruitment practices

Diversity hiring is a problematic idea. If the organisation is committed to diversity hiring, then some people must answer to the label of the ‘diversity hire’. This puts pressure on people to prove their deservingness and merit, while also needing to defend their sense of diversity. This does not set diversity up for success. A more rewarding and accurate description of organisational efforts to move away from sameness and towards diversity is ‘inclusive hiring’. This includes everyone, as is the intention of inclusive practices at work. It also supports equal opportunity, fairness, and a level playing field for all of your talent.

4. Hold executive leaders to account not HR

D&I cannot sit in separation to executive leadership and the influence it affords. This is not a project for any one entity within the business. When Human Resources are seen as custodians of diversity and inclusion, it puts undue pressure on them for the vast accountabilities involved in becoming an inclusive and diverse organisation. In reality, the charter of D&I is wide-ranging, and as such, belongs in the realm of executive leadership and their powers. When leaders shift from being sponsors to key players, everyone in the organisation takes more notice. HR becomes a supporting mechanism and not the last stand of D&I efforts.

5. Integrate D&I training with leadership development

Often, D&I related training, such as unconscious bias and diversity awareness, are delivered in isolation from leadership learning. There is ample research now to prove that such training programs have not had the desired and sustained effect on workplace cultures. It’s also hard for leaders to keep a track of various learning paths when they have only so much time. A powerful way to make D&I training a more embedded part of the learning culture is to combine it with leadership training. This is not about adding a D&I module, but integrating the language of inclusion, respect, belonging, and psychological safety into leadership learning.

Sonali D’silva is a Certified Professional in Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst Inc. She is the Founder of Equality Consulting, a training and advisory service for raising diversity awareness, leading with inclusion, and creating psychological safety at work. Find out more about Sonali at