What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion?

9 Jun 22 | Blog

The term ‘diversity and inclusion’ has become a lock-up – which is to say, it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. And yet the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ have two quite separate meanings.

In this post we explore the difference between diversity and inclusion – and their business-critical relationship to one another.

In this blog post…


Diverse workforces

    • The benefits of diversity
    • The expanding scope of diversity
    • The biases that work against diversity

Inclusive workforces

    • Environments that work for everyone
    • Mindsets that include everyone
    • What does it feel like if you’re not included?
    • Getting the balance right

How to make your organisation more diverse and inclusive

    • Establish a benchmark for diversity and inclusion
    • Target areas for improvement
    • Diversity and Inclusion needs to be an ongoing process

The difference between diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Diverse workplaces

Take a look in a dictionary and you’ll see the word ‘diverse’ defined as: “showing a great deal of variety”. And in the workforce, it means just that. Rather than recruiting people who share a similar profile – same ethnic background, same gender, same age, same schools attended – you hire people based on merit.

It sounds straightforward – and fundamentally, it is. But then, so are many revolutionary ideas.

The benefits of diversity

The business world we’re all operating within is in a constant state of change. Technologies, world economies, societies and attitudes are all changing rapidly and are in a state of constant flux. In this environment, only the most flexible and innovative businesses thrive.

And one of the most sure-fire ways to make a company resilient is to have teams made up of lots of different people, who all bring different perspectives and ways of thinking to the table.

Research from leading authorities and business schools constantly reinforce this message. The more diverse a workforce is, the more valuable the business tends to be.

The evidence linking D&I to increased business performance


The ‘tangible uplift in business performance’ that is achieved by diverse and inclusive organisations.

Source: Deloitte


Companies with above average engagement and gender diversity have financial results 46-58% better than those that do not.

Source: Gallup


Companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average returns.

Source: McKinsey

The expanding scope of diversity

Back in the day, when organisations first began to pay attention to diversity and inclusion, diversity was almost seen as a headcount. And for a number of organisations, it was about visibility – or how many different types of people you could actually see as you walked around a company’s workplace.

The thinking behind this may have been well-intended, but it barely scratches the surface of what diversity can be. The scope of diversity is much wider than people who are visibly different.

“Thinking in terms of headcount is a very basic approach to diversity,” says Evie Samuel, Inclusion consultant at Qlearsite. So instead of thinking “headcount”, she recommends thinking, “demographic intersection”.

“People just don’t fit into one box. If you have an organisation that’s 50:50 men and women, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily have a diverse organisation. Where do those men and women come from? If they’re all the same ethnicity and all have the same kinds of backgrounds, you are not, as an organisation, going to reap the benefits of having a truly diverse workforce.”

Evie Samuel

Qlearsite Inclusion Consultant

A truly diverse workforce includes all types of people – from different socio-economic backgrounds, different gender identities, people who are neuro-diverse, people of different sexuality, different physical abilities and different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

“It’s also about spread,” says Samuel. “If 20% of your workforce is from a particular ethnic background, but none of them are in decision-making roles, then you do not have a truly diverse workplace. Instead, you may simply be reinforcing subconscious beliefs that certain types of people only belong in certain roles.”

The biases that work against diversity

Though it happens, few people would actively seek to disadvantage someone because of the colour of their skin, or the fact they use walking sticks or a hearing aid. And because many would never consciously do this, people can make the mistake of believing that disadvantage doesn’t exist.

Yet time and again, people see their culture, ethnicity, disability, sexuality or gender identity as a barrier – either to being recruited in the first place, or from progressing within an organisation. And the often all-male, all-white faces of the boardroom seem to suggest that these beliefs are well-founded.

So if very few people intentionally discriminate – yet discrimination still happens – what is going on?

In recent years, workplace psychologists and behavioural economists have identified some key characteristics of human thinking. They all stem from a fundamental, which is basically, for a lot of the time, we all operate on autopilot. Nobel economics laureate Daniel Kahneman called this: System 1 and System 2 thinking.

System 1 thinking is the fast, automatic – often emotional – thinking that human beings do. System 2 is the thinking where we have to work stuff out. So if someone asks you what 2×2 is, your System 1 already knows the answer without thinking, and can blurt out: 4! But if someone asks you what 347×68 is, you might have to spend a little time working it out – so System 2 kicks in.

System 1 is built up of all the stuff we’ve ever learned or absorbed – from basics like 2×2, all the way through to highly nuanced social norms and frameworks for thinking. It allows us to shortcut the brain-ache of working things out – because our System 1 is stocked with template responses to situations that churn out on autopilot.

So while at a System 2 level, you might really believe that you’re a champion for diversity, your System 1 auto-responses might already be programmed to believe that only a certain type of person is right for the job.

System 1 thinking is made up of a number of “biases”. These are the shortcuts that allow human beings to get around deep thinking. Kahneman identified many separate biases that are worth investigating and knowing about. But here are a couple that are worth bearing in mind:

The availability heuristic: This is the phenomena that if you can remember something easily, you afford it more importance than something you can’t. And since we’re more likely to remember what we see most of every day, we’re more likely to afford these things (or people) greater importance.

Confirmation bias: This means you are more likely to see evidence for the things you already believe – either consciously or subconsciously. So if you have been conditioned to believe that women struggle in certain types of roles, you might always gravitate towards men to fill them – regardless of experience or qualifications.

Affinity bias: This means you prefer people like yourself. So you tend to favour people who are like you.

Biases are an innate feature of human thinking – and we all have them. The important thing to remember is that biases are subconscious. They’re the algorithm-like processing that happens in the back of our minds while we’re getting on with other things. The trick is to acknowledge that all human beings are subject to biases and to adopt methods that sideline them. Using data analysis is a great way of doing this because it shows you what the numbers say, rather than what individuals intuit.

Inclusive workforces

You need to understand difference between diversity and inclusion in the workplace. If diverse workforces are those that are made up of lots of different types of people, who are represented at all levels of the organisation, what is an inclusive organisation?

A truly inclusive workplace offers a culture and environment where everyone has equal chances to participate.

Samuel says: “Real diversity is when people’s voices can be heard at the head of their organisation.”

Environments that work for everyone

When corporations first emerged, they were organisations peopled almost exclusively by men of a certain social class and ethnicity. These were times when only the able-bodied were accommodated in public life and a woman’s place was at home.

And while society and the times have moved on, some of our thinking about the workplace hasn’t quite kept pace.


Companies in highly diverse and inclusive organisations have a 26% higher rate of team cooperation.

Source: Gartner


If 10% more employees feel engaged, work attendance increases by one day per employee per year.

Source: Deloitte

  • Does your office have loos, for example, that could be used by non-binary or trans people?
  • Does your canteen serve food that’s appropriate for people with dietary needs, both medical and religious?
  • Do your seats and desks accommodate pregnant women or people who use aids to walk or wheelchairs?
  • Can deaf or blind people navigate your spaces easily?
  • Do your shifts or working hours make sense for people who are caring for kids or elderly relatives?

Physical environments, shift patterns and working hours can very quickly make different types of people feel that this workplace isn’t for them, that their voice and their input is not as important – and that no-one really cares what work is like for them.

And if you think remodelling the workplace to accommodate everyone sounds like a headache, it’s probably because you’re not aware of the business benefits of doing something as simple as changing a menu or giving people different bathroom spaces.

Inclusive workplaces consistently perform better than organisations that rank low for diversity and inclusion.

Mindsets that include everyone

Shifting workplace culture towards inclusivity can take time. But leadership has a crucial role to play.

The Boston Consulting Group published a study which clearly linked diversity at board level with better innovation and improved financial performance. And Qlearsite’s Samuel says the relationship between leadership and inclusion is deeper still.

She says: “The role of leadership in diversity and inclusion is really important. The biggest signal you can send out is having diverse people in the most senior roles. It creates a new norm for people to see diversity at the most senior levels.”

What it feels like if you’re not included

It can be difficult for decision-makers to truly understand what being marginalised feels like. After all, if they have a seat at the board, they are far less likely to have ever experienced not being included.

But Qlearsite’s findings show that lack of inclusion is a real, business-damaging phenomenon – which sees talented people feeling that they cannot share ideas and cannot progress.

What does non-inclusion look like?


Women are three times more likely than men to say their gender stops them feeling included in their organisation.

Source: Qlearsite


Women are 2.4x more likely than men to say childcare is the reason they don’t feel included.

Source: Qlearsite


Women are 54% more likely than men to say that managers and leaders need to change to make them feel more included.

Source: Qlearsite


People with a disability are 2.7x more likely than their able-bodied colleagues to feel overlooked for opportunities and promotion.

Source: Qlearsite


People over 50 are 30% more likely to say the promotions process in their organisation should be fairer.

Source: Qlearsite


BAME employees are 39% more likely to feel that company communication needs to be more open and regular.

Source: Qlearsite

Getting the balance right

Research carried out by Deloitte shows that companies very often give more weight to diversity than to inclusion. In fact, some organisations, they found, struggle to even define inclusion.

Yet the same research shows that when organisations achieve both high diversity and inclusion, they can expect an uplift in business performance of 31%.

High diversity alone and high inclusion alone do not produce the same results.

How to make your organisation more diverse and inclusive

Is diversity and inclusion important? Yes – in so many ways. Successive studies show that where there are high levels of diversity and inclusion, businesses also perform significantly above average and have higher levels of innovation.

But these studies also show that good intentions alone are not enough. Research by the World Economic Forum, for example, shows that the global gender gap will take 170 years to close if change continues at the same pace. So how do you make your organisation more diverse and inclusive?

Establish a benchmark for diversity & inclusion

The focus on diversity alone – mentioned earlier in this post – has come about because it’s traditionally been easier to measure.

But recent advances in technology mean that every aspect of diversity and inclusion is now measurable – and can therefore be improved.

At Qlearsite, beginning to understand your diversity and inclusion opportunities starts with an assessment of where you are right now. This is possible because the technology allows you to ask your teams about their experiences in real time. (Read how to measure inclusion in your organisation)

Then, sophisticated algorithms and machine learning kick into play, slicing and dicing the data to give you the kind of insight you may never have had access to before. You simply log onto an interface and drill down into key areas to see what your teams are saying and experiencing, day-to-day. And once you have a baseline, you can make plans to improve.

Target areas for improvement

Qlearsite flags up areas – or hotspots – in your organisation that need to be improved to achieve better business performance. This allows you to target your resource in the certainty that your planned activities will get results.

This approach also shows areas where diversity and inclusivity are working well – so you can take learnings from them and roll them out across the rest of your organisation.

Diversity and inclusion needs to be an ongoing process

Introducing a diverse and inclusive culture is not a one-off action. It’s more about prioritising D&I so that it becomes a normal, planned and measured way of increasing business performance across the piece.

Using technology like Qlearsite allows you to share progress with your organisation, boosting trust and reputation as you go. It also allows you to devolve responsibilities to your management teams and make them accountable for them.

Samuel says:

“If you want your organisation to be innovative, and to perform above industry averages, you need to have diverse thinking and diverse experiences. It means having diversity at every level of the organisation, and putting in place all necessary measures to include them. Their voices have to be heard at every level.”

Evie Samuel

Qlearsite Inclusion Consultant

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