7 hidden opportunities for inclusion and diversity

aerial view of a multi-colored hot air balloon flying over mountains

This series is based on our experiences and observations working with clients who are using inclusion and diversity (I&D) as a way to develop existing talent. Our next post will cover attraction and recruitment.

If diversity is the opportunities that an organization offers to their people, inclusion is how people feel about these opportunities.

Your organization offers great opportunities for progression, development and learning. But do you see the same people applying for and benefiting from them? You just can’t get your diverse talent to go for them. You can’t break the mold of the people that progress within your organization. But the opportunities are there! Why don’t they take them?

The question is: Do they recognize them as their opportunities?

Offering opportunities to people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, ways of thinking and working is one thing. But enabling talent to see the opportunities as real opportunities for them, believe they can go for them and seize them can be quite another.

The latter is what I define as inclusion. Traditionally most definitions of inclusion focus on how people feel right now: Can they bring their whole self to work? Do they feel that they belong? Are they comfortable to speak their minds? This is the basis, the foundation. But it covers only the “now.” It misses the “tomorrow,” which comes through the progress, stretch and evolution that people are looking for in their careers.

For this to happen, opportunities are needed. But opportunities might not be obvious, or might be unintentionally hidden and so consequently missed. And with them, your opportunity for sustained diversity.

So, how can leaders and managers make the inclusion and diversity opportunities in your organization fully seen, heard and sought after by all employees? Here are seven considerations:

  1.  Never get tired of repeating your commitment to and belief in diversity. It’s not a compliance point but a true business benefit. Remind people to come forward not despite but because of their differences. This is not a “we are an equal opportunities employer” type of thing. This is a true endorsement of how important getting people who are different to apply for this role is.
  2. Explain why you choose someone. Put it into words and stand behind it. Is it their creative problem solving, their business acumen, their team spirit? Whatever it is, spend some time to identify it and express it. You’ll very quickly realize that what you’re describing is the “difference” of this person – what made them stand out. And this is the first step toward recognizing diversity.
  3. Celebrate diversity that appears in different ways, shapes and forms. This is not the “bring your traditional food” day in the office. It’s the reasons why a team has succeeded and how diversity of thought has helped in that success. Look at your teams and their make-up and identify the elements that made them innovative, disruptive and successful. Note: This is not the same as the “we’re in the best team” feeling. It can be quite the opposite. Success and innovation can come with frustration, friction and conflict. So, base your assessment and judgment on true success measures, such as innovative ideas and customer satisfaction.
  4. Search and uncover the existing diversity. The ideal form of this is role-modelling diversity — showing a picture that people can relate to and aim for. But you don’t have to wait until you have a 50-50 gender split on your board or ethnic representation in your management team to talk about it. Diversity is already around you, possibly just not discovered yet and not talked about enough. It’s the childhood story of your CEO, the family situation of your CFO, the immigration adventure of your managing director’s grandparents. Find these stories and share them with your people and explain why these have made those people who they are, and how these stories have contributed to their success. Our Global Workforce Study shows that inclusion has an indirect but strong link to leadership effectiveness, engagement and performance, which makes a strong argument for these stories to come from your leadership team for biggest impact.
  5. Be clear on expectations. Lack of clarity in job descriptions can limit the scope of candidates coming forward for certain opportunities. Being clear on your requirements and expectations will help you to strengthen the description of the profile you’re looking for. But most importantly, it will help the potential candidates identify themselves and go for the opportunity.
  6. Watch your language. It’s not about changing the words you use. It’s about making sure the words you use give the right message. Do you really need that ambitious individual or are you looking for someone to lead and inspire the team with innovation and passion? Be clear on your expectations and true to what you’re looking for. Because there’s nothing wrong with looking for an ambitious individual but there is a problem rejecting ambitious individuals because they didn’t show enough entrepreneurial spirit and passion!
  7. Give the right credit where it’s due. Recognizing people’s contribution no matter how small or big, tangible or intangible, is an important element in empowering someone to go for a job. It’s your way to make them visible, so they can feel valued, recognized and respected.

Opportunities for inclusion and diversity are everywhere, and they are the moments that matter, for your employees, your leaders, your business. So make them visible, accessible and moments that count, for everyone’s benefit.

Don’t make diversity your best kept secret – make it the secret of your success.


Olga Skouteli headshotOlga Skouteli is an employee experience consultant with a focus on inclusion and diversity and wellbeing at Willis Towers Watson.

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One Response to 7 hidden opportunities for inclusion and diversity

  1. Absolutely agree with everything above. The ethos of the Integrated Education system in Northern Ireland, where I sent both my children, between the ages of 5 and 11, is ‘Embrace difference and Celebrate diversity’. This is the key to making this world a more peaceful place. We are One xx

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