Three drivers of inclusion that work with every employee
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Three drivers of inclusion that work with every employee

As a conscientious leader, you know the importance of diversity. You’re well aware that diverse workforces outperform more homogeneous groups in productivity, creativity and flexibility.

But even if you’ve assembled a mix of people by race, gender, age, sexual orientation and so forth, your work isn’t done. You’ve hired a diverse group, but can you keep them?

Research shows that the next step, inclusion, is just as critical. Without always intending to, dominant employee groups can make your diverse hires feel uncomfortable and excluded – and eventually leave.

Verna Myers, a consultant on diversity and inclusion, draws this distinction between the two: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

How can you make sure everyone in your team is asked to dance and isn’t treated like a wallflower?

The critical dimensions

That challenge may seem daunting, given all the different kinds of people you’re dealing with. But the good news is that you don’t have to get everything right.  Research into workplace behavior shows that if you make people – all kinds of people – feel included across three critical dimensions they’ll be more inclined to stay with you and give their best efforts.

OK, at this point I need to be clear what I’m not going to talk about. I’m not going to discuss unconscious bias, or micro-aggressions, or any of the things majority employees sometimes do that make minority employees feel out of place. It’s not that these things aren’t important – they surely are – but not every leader is equipped to talk to employees effectively about such matters.

Still, any competent leader should be able to operate what research identifies as the three key drivers of inclusion, for any demographic:

  1. Decision-making influence
  2. Access to sensitive information about the business, and
  3. Job security

Multiple studies have been done in this area. One notable one was led by professors at USC’s Marshall School of Business. The researchers surveyed 345 employees in 10 work units at a U.S. manufacturing company. About 14 percent of them were non-white and 36 percent women.

The responding employees were given anonymity, and asked to rate how much influence they had over three kinds of decisions: about the quality of the work environment, the quality of the product, and ways of improving productivity. In terms of sensitive information, they were asked to rate how well-informed they were about organizational goals, new technologies and future business plans. In terms of job security, they were asked whether they were unlikely to be laid off, and whether they had a high degree of security in their jobs.

The researchers found that the more dissimilar employees were from their work group in terms of race and gender, the less they felt included in one or more of these three dimensions. This feeling affected employees of all races and both genders.

Diversity and exclusion

Wow. These findings starkly illustrate the magnitude of the challenge for leaders. The very presence of diversity in your workforce creates feelings of exclusion. But the research also shows you a path forward, a way to turn that exclusion into inclusion.

So what can you do to make everybody feel they belong? Three things:

1. Go out of your way to make every employee feel they have influence over important decisions.

This may mean submitting decisions you traditionally made by yourself to a team for hashing out and approval. It may mean delegating some decisions to trusted employees. It may mean openly acknowledging to your people that you don’t always have all the answers, and their input is not only welcome, but necessary.

2. Make sure you share all the information you can with your entire team.

Sure, a few things can’t be divulged, like trade secrets or confidential employee information. But in general, no leader ever went bust by over-communicating. This is particularly true for information that is likely to affect your employees’ futures, like business plans that will change their roles or the way they operate.

3. Although you can’t promise your people absolute job security – such a thing hardly exists anymore – you can be a forceful advocate for them.

Share the credit for your work group’s achievements, and shoulder more than your share of the blame if things don’t go according to plan. Let them know that if job cuts in the organization are discussed, you’ll be in there explaining why they are essential.


With the best will in the world, diversity and inclusion are hard to achieve. No individual leader can undo all the stereotypes, biases and prejudices that employees may harbor.

But you can take significant steps toward including everybody. Just give them a say in important decisions, make them feel like insiders with regard to organizational information, and do all you can to ensure their jobs are protected.

This blog entry is based on the following study: Pelled, L. et al. (1999). Demographic Dissimilarity and Workplace Inclusion. Journal of Management Studies, 36:7, December 1999, 0022-2380

1 Comment

  • Brian K. Grossguth says:

    As a presenter nationally on Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership, it is important to connect these two with the Inclusion aspect. Good articel

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