The Google Memo: Diversity vs. Inclusion

The challenge all organizations face creating a culture in which everyone’s voice is heard.

Diversity is one thing. Inclusion is another.

The controversy over the Google internal memo about the firm’s efforts to hire and promote women continues, but experts say the broader issue is less about diversity and more about creating an environment where everyone feels welcome. “Diversity is a mix and inclusion is making the mix work,” says Andrés Tapia, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Workforce Performance, Inclusion & Diversity practice.

Many firms have made a commitment to increase the ranks of women and minorities in its workforce. There are multiple studies that show how having leaders from diverse backgrounds can make an organization more successful. Plus, some firms are putting increased emphasis on bringing people in with different political ideologies.

For those diverse groups to work most effectively, however, they need to be not only engaged in the work but also feel that the company respects their points of view. “Inclusion is considerably harder than diversifying the workforce,” Tapia says. “Companies can get caught off guard assuming that by being diverse that they are automatically inclusive, or vice versa.”

In his memo and subsequent interviews, the Google engineer said the firm isn’t a friendly place for people who don’t agree with the firm’s views. The engineer was fired last week, the company said he violated the firm’s code of conduct and advanced harmful gender stereotypes.

Steve Safier, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in Leadership Development and the Global Human Resources Center of Excellence, says that the controversy around the memo reflects how difficult it can be for any organization to create an inclusive corporate culture. “One of the toughest parts is to decide what the boundary is; what should be encouraged and what is beyond the pale and unacceptable,” he says. Even then, an inclusive culture will not be devoid of conflicts.

Diversity and inclusion, while different, are linked. Experts say that the best leaders are inclusive, giving their employees permission to those who want to challenge the status quo because those are the types of employees who can inspire innovation. However, a major part of being an inclusive leader is being an effective advocate for diversity, championing efforts to add more women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups into the organization.