D&I or I&D? Why We Have to Think Inclusion-First

D&I or I&D Feature

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The business case for diversity—you’ve heard it all before! Innovation, higher profitability, customer retention… the list really does go on. But focusing on diversity alone won’t work, and that might mean you’re getting your initiatives all wrong.

Diversity simply can’t exist without inclusion, so the key to diversity is putting inclusion first. 

Think about the issues that would come from having a diverse workforce without an inclusive culture: people wouldn’t feel that their ideas and opinions, or even their presence in the workplace, are valued—the perfect recipe for a disengaged workforce. 

On the other hand, an inclusion-first approach creates a culture where everyone feels valued, appreciated for their differences, and ultimately… engaged!

So… does that mean it should be I&D instead of D&I?

In short: yes. If you don’t have an inclusive culture, diversity will fail, meaning inclusion absolutely has to come first—so it should be inclusion and diversity over diversity and inclusion.  Moving away from such a widely recognised and widely used initialism, like D&I, would be quite the challenge, but a shift in mindset that reflects I&D (regardless of what we decide to call it) is still a must.

That being said, genuinely inclusive workplaces aren’t easy to achieve. Your organisation might be diverse, but that doesn’t mean it’s inclusive—the same way it could be inclusive but not diverse.

“If you’re an inclusive employer, you’ll have a sense of psychological safety across your teams that encourages a feeling of belonging. That will automatically drive the diversity element of it because you’ll attract and retain a more diverse workforce when everyone feels like they can truly be themselves at work thanks to that culture.”

Many diversity initiatives will fall flat because the culture simply isn’t there to nurture and retain diverse talent. As global inclusion expert, Dr Helen Turnbull puts it, “organisations hire for diversity but manage for sameness”.

Recognising and accepting that is the best starting point before any I&D push, followed by opening up the conversation on areas to improve and getting I&D on the agenda.

Getting started with I&D: taking an inclusion temperature check

We’ve all got busy jobs and varying priorities that can make us unintentionally detached from how people are actually feeling. That’s why you should always seek to understand exactly how people feel before kickstarting any initiatives or bringing new strategies to the table. I&D affects your people the most, so their views, concerns and opinions need to take centre stage in every conversation. 

The easiest way to do this is with a survey. “But what should I try to find out in the survey?”, you ask. Well, there are a few key characteristics of an inclusive workplace that you should focus on when gathering that employee feedback:

I&D Key Characteristics
  • Belonging: whether people feel accepted and secure within their organisation, particularly linking to their relationships with others and how committed they are to their role.
  • Voice: how comfortable people feel about speaking up—from sharing opinions that are different from their coworkers to having more difficult conversations—without fear of negative consequences.
  • Diversity: the extent that people’s collective experiences are shared as a community in the workplace, as well as how valued minority groups feel within the organisation.
  • Opportunities: whether anyone faces barriers in their careers, like equal access to opportunities, development and resources.
  • Fairness: how fairly people are treated at work—from performance to pay to management—and whether everyone’s individual needs and barriers are recognised.

A simple 10-question inclusion survey will provide you with a good feel of what your employees actually think, and is a great starting point for an inclusion-first approach. (Psst! We’ve got a guide for exactly that… grab your copy for 10 free and ready-to-use questions).

Tackling inclusion-first through trust and psychological safety

Inclusive cultures are often characterised by high levels of trust and psychological safety. That’s because when we feel able to be our true selves at work, we don’t face the disengaging consequences that come with downplaying our values and personalities.

There will likely be more than a handful of people who aren’t willing to speak up and volunteer in things like employee forums—and we can’t limit ourselves to hearing only those who are comfortable talking candidly. So consider the following steps to make sure you diversify your employee feedback and nurture more trust:

  1. Start from the top: just like anything culture related, inclusivity has to start with senior leaders. Inclusion needs to be lived throughout the entire organisation, so it’s up to those at the top to connect inclusive behaviours with mission and values—and then make sure that feeds down to managers and employees.
  2. Use confidential channels: crowdsourcing ideas, concerns or issues relating to I&D can be difficult. It’s a sensitive topic, and one that many don’t feel comfortable having open conversations about. Try utilising confidential channels (like Hive) that enable people to voice their concerns without the usual fears that come from speaking up.
  3. Use feedback themes in focus groups: once you’ve discovered some key themes and areas for improvement in confidential feedback, use them as discussion points in a focus group or employee forum. Keeping the agenda on organisation-wide topics means you know exactly what to focus on first and can tackle the issues that matter most.

Remember that building a high level of trust won’t happen overnight; commitment to I&D is an ongoing journey, and when you start to get it right your people will catch on over time.

Communicating your inclusive culture

When you’re on the right track with your I&D efforts, next you need to get your language and tone of voice right to make sure you’re attracting diverse candidates. A basic message saying you support diversity simply won’t do the trick; these days, candidates know how to do their research into whether employers really are inclusion-first.

Start by brushing up your knowledge of inclusive language, then move on to develop your own tone of voice so that it represents your inclusive brand and culture. That way you can communicate your commitment to I&D with ease and with a brand that backs it up—much more engaging than a two-tick symbol claiming your commitment to diversity, and if you’re truly inclusive it will come naturally!

So what do you think: should we be using I&D instead of D&I? Inclusion-first certainly isn’t a new concept, but still requires a lot more progress. Our People Scientists are experts at nurturing inclusive cultures; just book an intro to find out more about how we can help.

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Diversity and inclusion is more than just a tick-box exercise these days; thriving organisations know exactly how important it is to create cultures where everyone feels safe and respected.

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