In this article from long time mwah. friend, Jason Whitty. He explores the difference between Diversity and Inclusion as a variation of ‘What came first Chicken or Egg?’.

A bit about me 

For anyone who has known me for more than 10 minutes, it is clear that I am someone that likes to talk … It was telling that the one word I saw most on my primary school report cards was ‘chatterbox’.

So it may come as a surprise that, aside from social media musings and sharing interesting articles and the works of others on LinkedIn, this is the first time I have actually sat down to articulate my thoughts in a (hopefully) coherent manner.

So – where do I start?

Well right up front, given the role that I am in, it is probably not a surprise that I have been doing a lot of thinking when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion; or Inclusion and Diversity (depending on how you want to look at it). I have also had many, many conversations with people across roles and industries around what it means to be truly inclusive.

My first observation from these conversations is that there are so many passionate, knowledgeable and truly amazing people doing great things (nothing like being in good company right?), yet despite this passion and great work, there is a feeling that we aren’t making as much progress as we would like in D&I.

But why?

Lots of ideas around why bubbled up as we talked –  were we focusing on the wrong things? Were we not connecting well with our people? Were we totally off track and just didn’t see it? The list goes on ….

Thinking I had more questions than answers, a thought occurred to me – by focusing on one thing – have we not focused on enough? Traditional D&I focuses are on aspects such as gender, or disability, or sexual orientation and gender identity, or ethnicity (note the very deliberate OR) and our focus is very singular. Yet by our very nature, humans are not singular beings.

We spend a lot of time talking about Diversity – “what makes us different from each other” – and by doing this we sometimes put people in a one (dimensional) ‘box’ – which in itself misses the richness of all the amazing and different things that make us who we are, so arguably not as inclusive as we would like to be.

This brings me to one of my favourite words – Intersectionality. For those playing along at home who aren’t familiar with the term, (I know for sure I wasn’t at all until a few months ago), it can be described as ‘… the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities….” – so encompassing of the many different identities we all have and central to the thoughts that has been nagging me.

Is the fact we are now just starting to (sometimes) talk about this intersection, as opposed to singular elements of difference, mean we are finally at the point we need to be in order to make a difference and be truly inclusive?

I began to pose the question around intersectionality to my peers in the D&I and HR community, particularly the notion – should we have focused on the intersection of our many different identities to just be more inclusive all along? As you would expect this sparked some fascinating, robust and intriguing debate, with ideas ranging from–

“… it’s a maturity thing…”, to

“… we are only now at the point that we are ‘ready’ to talk about all the aspects that make us who we are…”, to

“… yes, we have we actually started back to front – and rather than focusing on what makes us different, we  should have focused on being inclusive to make our differences a point of curiosity and connection…”

This last point, in particular, was reflected in a recent article that talked about the success of Atlassian in creating a more inclusive culture, which as a result significantly improved their gender ratios and attraction of graduate talent.

From my own experience, I have seen the positive impact of focusing on the singular elements of diversity, and the impact of empowering groups of employees to connect and make a difference in the way that others see and recognise difference.

The work these groups do, and the impact that they have had organisationally has been immense! As an unintended by-product, I have also seen those who do not ‘fit’ within these groups feel more isolated. So in short – this approach can be really good, but not perfect.

And then it hit me – I remembered watching an amazing commercial produced by Television 2 in Denmark that showed that there is in fact, more than we have in common than sets us apart. If you haven’t seen it I really encourage you to watch it. For me – it really focused my thoughts on what we can do in order to encourage curiosity, to understand the many connections we have with others, and use this to build truly inclusive cultures.

You know, those cultures where we don’t have to focus on programs to improve gender parity, our cultural mix, to disability, or to include those whose gender expression may be different than our own – a true unicorn or nirvana in the world of D&I.

To also see the reaction of other people when they watched this video reinforced that there is definitely something in this thinking that we have more in common than what sets us apart.

So, to the million-dollar question – and the challenge that I wanted to throw out there to you –  am I alone in these thoughts? Have I gone totally off track on this, or is there something in this to be explored? I know that I certainly do not have all the answers, (in fact I think that I have more questions at this point) – but I am sure there is something here. I am keen and extremely interested to continue this discussion … with whoever else would like to explore it with me!

Article written by Jason Whitty