I was asked recently where I stood on the diversity vs inclusion debate. I hadn’t a clue – in fact I wasn’t even aware there was a debate – so I’ve been doing some reading. And found a whole load of confusion and muddle.


Part of the problem is that diversity and inclusion are so often bundled up so they look like pretty much the same thing. But they are, of course, quite different.  It’s also true that diversity is pretty easy to measure. And inclusion isn’t. So I’m guessing there’s a tendency to measure diversity statistics and call it inclusion.


The difference between these ideas is hinted at in the etymology of the words. Diversity comes from the latin diverte (to turn aside), hence divorce. Inclusion comes from includere (to enclose).  In some sense diversity is about what makes us different and inclusion is what brings us together.


What? How?

In a practical organisational sense, I have read diversity is the ‘what’ and inclusion is the ‘how’.  But surely it’s more useful to think of diversity as who and inclusion as why?

A focus on diversity makes sure we are fairly representative. But fairness isn’t really the point. It’s about including all the talents and a rich mix of insight and life experience to make organisational cultures not just representative but vibrant and productive.


Why? – the single most powerful force in supporting inclusion

Inclusion seems to me to be about working out what gives meaning to this vibrant mix and brings everyone together in a cohesive team. Yes, in an inclusive company everyone is equally valued for their ideas. But that sense of inclusion is most powerful when it is driven from source – we all know why we are here and everyone shares in that sense of meaning – rather than outcome  – we have systems and processes in place to ensure it happens.


Which makes it relevant to our research into organisational purpose and hence my interest.


What we know about purpose is that, done right, it’s the single most powerful force you can harness in creating clarity of vision, unity of intention and cohesion of cultures in an organisation.  And that sounds a lot like inclusion.

Consider this. Taking all employees across a range of business types in a dozen countries around the globe, those who considered their organisation to be purposeful were on average 35% more joyful at work, 40% more engaged, 50% more aligned and they experience their company culture as being 70% more open and 100% more trustworthy than colleagues who do not feel the organisation to be purposeful. Which means, logically, purpose must be the single most powerful force in supporting inclusion in organisational culture.


Furthermore, it also means we can perhaps, for the first time, put some numbers on inclusion. What we have shown in our work with Cambridge and others is that the impact of purpose on how people feel and behave can be accurately measured. This is not about whether people are aware of organisational purpose. It is about showing the extent to which their beliefs and behaviours are altered by organisational purpose. Since we know purpose activation drives dramatically higher levels of engagement, alignment and trust, it follows that measuring purpose activation is an excellent metric indicator of inclusion.


If our aim in organisations is to benefit from a diversity of thought and ideas, it’s key that we not only bring in the right diversity of people but empower their creativity and drive through creating a shared sense of meaning and purpose. If diversity is the noun, inclusion is the verb. And inclusion can be ignited through a strong sense of shared purpose.


If you enjoyed this article you may also like these:

Purpose, not profit, inspires companies to outperform

17% of your people would sabotage the business given half a chance.  But it’s the 83% who don’t care enough to bother that you should worry about.

90% of CEOs don’t believe their business is moving fast enough to survive.