From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change to the social upheaval driven by an anti-racism movement going mainstream, major global trends are upending many certainties about our people, our customers, and our society.

To survive in the face of increasing complexity and disruption, organizations need talent that matches the world they operate in. In other words, they need diversity.

To thrive, companies need to unlock the power and potential of all that talent, including women, people of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status, and those with different physical and cognitive abilities. In other words, they need inclusion.

Organizations that get both elements right are at a huge advantage. Research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations, when compared to their peers, are:

  • 87% more likely to make better decisions, according to Korn Ferry Research
  • 75% faster at bringing products to market, according to the Center for Talent Innovation

But while the value of diversity is widely recognized and understood, the importance of achieving inclusion in the workplace can be overlooked.

Below, we examine three key benefits of inclusion in the workplace.

Inclusion in the workplace makes diversity work

A study by the Canadian researcher N. J. Adler has revealed that, while diverse teams do indeed outperform and out-innovate homogenous teams, they can also at times be significantly less effective.

 

Image Source: Nancy J. Adler, International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, 4th ed. (Cincinnati, OH: Thomson South-Western, 2002).

The reason for this is that if diversity is not handled properly then chaos can ensue. Managing groups of people with varying thought patterns and behaviors takes real empathy and skill—much more so than when everyone in the team shares similar backgrounds and experiences.

The solution to this is inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders are leaders who can empower team members to take risks, manage their own development, and bring their authentic selves to work. They are collaborative, transparent and culturally agile. And, most importantly, they fully embrace the vast diversity of today’s workforces.

Even when diverse teams are managed by skilled inclusive leaders, they may be outperformed by homogenous teams in the early stages of working together because disruption and conflict can result when different perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, thinking, and communication styles are brought into a team.

 

Image Source: Charlotte Sweeney and Fleur Bothwick, Inclusive Leadership: Defining Guide to Developing and Executingan Impactful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (London: Pearson Education, 2016), 171. Graph is adapted from Katherine W. Phillips, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” Scientific American 311, no. 4 (October 2014): 42–47; and Bruce W. Tuckman, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups,” Psychological Bulletin 63, no. 6 (1965): 384–399.

Given time, however, a diverse team led by an inclusive leader will significantly outperform a homogenous team, however well-managed it may be. In other words, inclusion makes diversity work—and the two of them together make a formidable combination.

Inclusion in the workplace leads to improved engagement and decision-making

What would happen if you could move every employee closer to their highest levels of performance? Imagine the positive impact it would have not just in terms of collaboration, innovation and engagement, but also on your desired business outcomes.

The evidence suggests that this is exactly what happens when you achieve true inclusion in the workplace. Korn Ferry research shows that inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time. According to Salesforce, 73% of employees are empowered to perform their best when they feel their voices are heard in the workplace.

Create a workplace where all people feel they can be themselves—where they are supported, respected, and valued both for who they are as individuals and for their unique contributions—and you can unleash the potential of everyone in your organization.

Inclusion in the workplace drives growth

We saw above that inclusive leaders are skilled at getting the most out of diverse teams and creating workplaces where everyone is empowered to achieve their full potential.

But that’s not all they can do.

In the 21st century, every company’s biggest challenge is to create growth. And, as the diagram below illustrates, the solution to this challenge is depends on inclusive leadership. No wonder diverse and inclusive organizations are 70% more likely to capture new markets and 19% more likely to see higher innovation revenue.

 

Image Source: Andrés T. Tapia and Alina Polonskaia, The Five Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders White Paper (Korn Ferry, 2020).

Inclusion is key to building workplaces of the future.

The case is clear: diversity and inclusion increases company performance in nearly every metric that matters. Getting both elements right puts you at a significant competitive advantage.

To survive and thrive in the future, organizations need to do more than simply diversify their talent pools. They also need to design inclusive workplaces that meet the needs of all their employees and enable everyone in the organization to achieve their full potential.