News | July 5, 2017

Diversity vs. Inclusion: Misconceptions and Things You Can Do

By Nancy Anthony Equal Employment Opportunity & Diversity

  • “The team I manage is diverse, so I’ve already done all I need to do.”
  • “I know I’m not racist or sexist, so why do I need to worry about inclusion?”
  •  “As long as we have at least a few minorities on the team and don’t get any EEO complaints, we’re good to go.”
  • “If the group has diversity, then by definition it’s inclusive, right?”
  • “Oh, he’s just a hillbilly Southerner, so it’s OK to write off his ideas. It’s not like he’s a minority.”

Each of these statements is wrong. But I’ve heard some version of each one in my time in the government, including at the Defense Logistics Agency.

Action Required

So what does it mean to be inclusive as a manager or as a co-worker? And how is inclusiveness different from diversity?

We all know what it means for a team or an organization to be diverse – essentially, to have a variety of backgrounds represented.

But that’s only half the job.

It’s execution that improves performance and promotes the agency’s strategic goals. Good managers and coworkers:

  • Make a point of seeking the different perspectives that come with different backgrounds.
  • Make sure everyone has the same opportunities for training, mentorship and work travel.
  • Watch to make sure those who are promoted or chosen for high-profile assignments are not all similar in background.
  • Don’t inadvertently give the tedious or lower-level work to people of the same background.
  • Watch themselves for unconscious biases even well-intentioned people can have.
  • Make a conscious effort to counteract any such biases, which can have their origins in upbringing, geography or personality.

Diversity without active inclusion sets the stage for missed opportunities. The team misses out on new ideas, interpretations and options. And overlooked employees may get used to being on the sidelines and disengage.

In other words, diversity is being invited to the party. But inclusion is showing up and asking for a dance.

Inclusion connects each employee to the organization; it encourages collaboration, flexibility and fairness. And it leverages diversity so that all individuals contribute to their full potential. It’s an ongoing effort that is never finished.

More Than Black and White

So diversity just means race and gender, right? Wrong.

We may think inclusion only applies to the Equal Employment Opportunity-protected categories. And it’s true that most common ones people think of are ethnicity, gender, age, disability status and sexual orientation. But not everything about diversity can be seen on the surface.

There’s also culture, religion, belief system, marital status, parental status, socioeconomic difference, appearance, native language, accent, disability, national heritage, veteran status, work style, work experience, job role, and function, thinking style and personality type, education level and U.S. regional origin.

And even for those who sincerely mean to treat everyone equally, it can be easy to let our unconscious biases take hold:

  • If you’re outgoing, are you unconsciously not asking for ideas from the quiet person?
  • If you’re from an urban area, are you assuming the person with the rural accent isn’t as smart?
  • If you’re from a rural background, are you pre-judging the fast-talking city person as rude and impatient?
  • Do you assume the person who uses the wheelchair isn’t up for a big project because it would be too demanding?
  • When you think of those on your team whom you’ve allowed to travel for work or training, are they all a lot like you in some way?
  • Do you unconsciously assume a religious coworker is less open to new ideas? Or that your non-religious coworker doesn’t have strong morals?
  • Do you assume the non-native English speaker doesn’t get the nuances in complex regulatory language?
  • Do you unwittingly regard the military service member as less able to think outside the box?
  • Do you regard the non-veteran as coddled and lazy?
  • Do you assume the lower-graded person can’t possibly have a new approach to solving a complicated problem?
  • Has your upbringing caused you to unconsciously interact less with a gay team member or one who wears a headscarf?

If you realize one of these applies to you, you’ve taken the first step: being aware of your biases. The next steps are to be inclusive by watching out for those biases and by actively reaching out to those who are unlike you.

Law of the Land, Goal of the Agency

Finally, being inclusive isn’t just the right thing, the fair thing and the best thing for DLA. It’s also the law.

A 2016 presidential memorandum, Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce, states: “Promoting diversity and inclusion within the national security workforce must be a joint effort and requires engagement by senior leadership, managers, and the entire workforce, as well as effective collaboration among those responsible for human resources, equal employment opportunity, and diversity and inclusion issues.”

This is in line with Goal Area 2 in the DLA Strategic Plan: “Hire, develop, and retain a high-performing, valued, resilient, and accountable workforce that delivers sustained mission excellence. DLA will foster an environment that unlocks the full potential of our workforce, enabling them to achieve peak performance and meet future challenges. We will continue to attract and hire highly-talented individuals, further develop their competencies and resilience, and cultivate and retain the next generation of diverse leaders and workforce to advance DLA into the future.”

In the following brief videos, your co-workers talk about diversity and inclusion:

  • You Are the Manager” encourages managers to build teams with different backgrounds, ensure training is available equally to all, and to solicit and consider feedback and ideas from all team members.
  • Our Differences Are Our Strengths” emphasizes the importance of valuing differences in building an atmosphere of creativity and innovation.
  • Black and White” looks at how different backgrounds and personalities can make a team stronger by bringing an array of solutions to problems.

Diversity and inclusion make us more resilient and optimize our performance. That’s the DLA way.

For more information about diversity and inclusion, visit the DLA Equal Employment Opportunity & Diversity website.