What is “Inclusion” anyway?

I heard a great explanation recently from Ray Dempsey, Chief Diversity Officer at BP America. We were at the Houston NEXT conference, put on by the Greater Houston Partnership. Ray said, “Diversity is perceiving difference. Inclusion is valuing it.”

This struck me as a great summation. Ray went on to say, “Without Inclusion, Diversity will fail.” Given that stark reality, and the clear benefits of achieving diversity in your workforce, (lower turnover, improved employee engagement and corporate reputation among many others) what can forward thinking employers do to make Inclusion a reality and not just lip service?

Here are a few common concepts I am hearing from business leaders running successful Inclusion programs.

First, organizations must secure buy-in from the executive suite. A business case must be conveyed to leadership that will help the company reach its strategic goals. Without that commitment, initiatives of this sort will almost surely fail.

Second, roles and responsibilities from all levels of the organization need to be defined. Stakeholders must have a clear mission with defined objectives and associated metrics. What is key here is that objectives are specific, measurable and widely understood. A good pilot program can be a great place to start.

Third, companies should baseline current state against those stated goals. Where do you stand against where you want to be? A realistic picture of the current situation, including hard statistical data and employee views are critical. Anonymous surveys can be very helpful here.

Fourth, firms need to define the levers they will employ to achieve their goals. These can include targeted recruiting, supervisor training and awareness events among others.

Finally, communication channels must be considered and refined. How will you receive honest feedback from your teams on how they perceive the program? How will you share progress on your stated metrics with the wider population? Working out this last step is vital in turning a feel-good concept into a business initiative with tangible, positive results.

By adopting an approach that is both methodical and measurable, Inclusion programs can drive business goals help companies to run better. Leading employers like BP are making it happen.

Jeff Miller is the CEO od Potentia (potentiaworkforce.com), a social enterprise dedicated to helping companies run better by leveraging the talents of high functioning individuals on the Autism spectrum.