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Desegregation, affirmative action, multi-culturalism, diversity, and now inclusion. Together, these words take us on a quick stroll down memory lane of this country’s journey toward a more perfect union. Other countries, such as Great Britain, Brazil, and Canada, have taken similar paths and made similar strides in a manner reflective of their histories and cultural norms.

Most of us “get it,” both rationally and intuitively. The formula is simple: take different backgrounds and points of view, work effectively together, and get better business outcomes. With different people looking at a business opportunity or problem from different angles and points of view, the likelihood of missing a blind spot is reduced. Risk is minimized. Growth potential thrives. For some, the benefits of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) can seem pie-in-the-sky. But we need to ask ourselves: are the benefits real? If they are, how do we help them come to life in our organizations?

A recent report by McKinsey & Company shows a clear correlation between diversity and business performance. In the 2015 report Diversity Matters, McKinsey found that,

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to achieve above-average financial returns. Similarly, companies with top-quartile ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform its competitive set.

While the study focused on the return-on-investment (ROI) for diverse representation, we know that in the absence of inclusive work teams, economic advantages will not be realized. This is where most Fortune 1000 companies focus their D&I efforts—achieving the financial and human capital advantages that are a result of comprehensive D&I strategy.

When we think about the word “inclusion,” it’s natural to instantly think about including everyone. We’ve all felt the sting of being excluded. Throughout our formative school years and even now as working adults, no one likes it, so the concept of inclusion is typically met with little resistance.

From a practical perspective, organizational efforts to “include everyone” tend to net surface-level inclusion, and surface-level financial and talent gains.

The Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion published a report in 2013 stating that,

93% of survey participants worked for companies that held inclusion as one of its values. Unfortunately, more than a quarter of survey participants felt their company was not living up to its values.

Even more concerning, nearly half of survey respondents felt that their organization had an expectation that employees should cover, or diminish, their uniqueness and authentic selves. In fact, nearly two-thirds of survey participants reported covering at work.

As organizations strive to reap the financial and human capital benefits of inclusion, more work is needed to build inclusive organizational cultures that allow individuals to be authentic in how they show up and contribute at work.


Identifying barriers to inclusion is part art and part science, with a heavy dose of sustained commitment and effort. Becoming comfortable with uncomfortable conversations is a true sign of an inclusive leadership culture and an organization that will likely reap the benefits of highly engaged employees that help the business outperform, outlast, and out-maneuver the competition.