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Diversity Without Inclusion Is Worthless

Facilitating a diverse workforce very important. The problem, however, is that it doesn’t always work because companies fail to facilitate inclusion. If diversity is the beautiful colored puzzle pieces, all unique and different, inclusion is when they come together to create that beautiful picture. If you really want diversity to work, you have to focus on one of the four different types of inclusion.


The first type of inclusion is called social inclusion. At its core, inclusion is really about feeling socially accepted. When individuals feel like they’re left out from participating in initiatives and projects, they report lower levels of social inclusion. For better or for worse, it’s human nature for people to feel more comfortable with those that seem to be similar to them. Organizations must be proactive in counteracting these tendencies and try to orchestrate opportunities for everyone to feel socially involved. There is no “out-group” versus “in-group”. Everybody’s part of the group.

2. Relatedness Needs Fulfillment

Human beings have three underlying needs: self-determination, competence, and relatedness. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, we’ve been conditioned to seek out the satisfaction of these needs because doing so helps us survive and thrive in our work environment. In the second type of inclusion, relatedness needs fulfillment, human beings instinctively understand that they’ll have a higher likelihood of success when they work cooperatively with others. In the workplace, we need to feel as if our colleagues genuinely care about us and will support us when needed. We need to make meaningful connections, and the degree that organizations create these opportunities for colleagues to build those authentic relationships, they can reverse the negative impact of unfulfilled relatedness.

3. Belongingness

The third topic to consider is belongingness. Inclusion is more specific to the behaviors that can improve the situation, such as dismantling the in-group versus out-group mentality. Belonging, on the other hand, is more emotion-focused. It’s about making people feel like they’re a part of a community. Affective commitment is representative of belonging because it represents an emotional attachment to the organization. Affective commitment goes beyond a cost benefit analysis (which is called continuance commitment). Affective commitment entails finding a sense of meaning from being a part of the organization. There are several predictors of affective commitment, but they don’t come easy. Organizations that create supportive and fair cultures are more likely to see an emotionally attached employee. Organizations can also increase employees’ affective commitment by investing in their employees’ growth and development. Said simply, organizations that invest in people can cultivate a sense of belonging through affective commitment.

4. Organizational Identification

The fourth topic of interest is organizational identification. This is another belonging-related concept that entails the extent to which employees self-identify with their organization’s, values, mission, and brand. When employees see themselves as stewards of the organization’s purpose, they’re more likely to exhibit proactive performance and citizenship behaviors. But when employees don’t identify, these pro-social behaviors are much less likely. Organizations seeking to connect their employees to the company culture should not only focus on pinpointing and articulating their values and goals, but they should also be attracting and recruiting employees who align with these values and goals. In effect, organizational identification is about finding the right people on deep level characteristics, not just checking the box in terms of demographics and skills.

Most of the time we talk about surface-level diversity. We need to shift our focus to also include deep-level diversity. There’s an important difference. Deep level diversity is about our psychographics. It’s who we are as people. It’s about our personality, values, strengths – all of those important phenomena that are beneath the surface. Organizations must pay attention to demographics to ensure that they have surface-level diversity. But it is also critical to start highlighting the unique qualities of our colleagues from a deep-level diversity perspective. These differences really matter. People get to know each other better as colleagues and contributors, which in turn, facilitates an inclusive workplace.

So what can we do about increasing and building an inclusive culture? One of the most common inclusion initiatives is through cognitive bias training. This training is helpful and can move the needle to some degree, but actually, it’s not quite enough. Cognitive biases are innate and deeply rooted. To overcome this challenge, organizations really need to focus on mechanisms that regularly and repeatedly reinforce inclusion over long periods of time and at the right time. One-and-done approaches are subject to what we would call cognitive overload. It’s too much information to embrace and put into practice. Organizations should consider supplementing their cognitive bias training with what we call micro-nudges: smaller, specific, aptly timed interventions across a long period of time.

Check out Cloverleaf to see if we can help you with this micro-nudge approach to help make real change on feelings of  inclusion. In our view, diversity without inclusion is worthless. Diversity is a starting point. Inclusion is the ultimate goal. You really need to focus on ensuring that you understand these different types of inclusion, as well as the micro-nudge approach, to build upon existing initiatives such as training, assessments, and team-building initiatives. Doing so will make sure that everybody knows each other from at a deeper level so they can work better together and understand who they are as people.

Picture of Dr. Scott Dust

Dr. Scott Dust

Scott Dust, Ph.D. is the Chief Research Officer at Cloverleaf, an HR-tech platform that facilitates coaching for everyone. Dr. Dust is also a Raymond E. Glos Associate Professor at the Farmer School of Business, Miami University. His research focuses on leadership and teams and has been published in over 30 peer-reviewed academic journals. Dr. Dust is also on the editorial review board of three journals, including the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Group and Organization Management, and the Journal of Social Psychology. He is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has a blog column at Psychology Today.