What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion? It’s a question that people ask often, and I think it’s an understandable one – the terms are everywhere these days and often used interchangeably. One way to understand the difference is, of course, to look at the literal definitions:

Diversity – the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.

Inclusion – the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized

One expert summarized the two by saying “diversity is the who and inclusion is the how,” while another has said “diversity is an invitation to the dinner party, inclusion is a seat at the table.” My take: diversity is taking actions that affect the kind of people you hire. Inclusion is taking actions that affect how you treat those people once they start working for you.


Diversity means that you want a workforce that reflects the population. You want a workforce that includes people of different ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexual orientations, to name the most common. But you also want to have diversity of thought, perspective, and lived experience. Hiring engineers from only a few schools, like Stanford or MIT, gives you a team of people who have been trained the same way and will be more likely to think and approach problems similarly. Consider everything. Homogeneity in any form is the opposite of diversity and robs your team of the benefits of diversity – greater innovation, productivity, employee satisfaction, and profits.


Inclusion means that once hired, everyone is given the same opportunities for learning and advancement. It means people are appreciated and respected at all times, not excluded or marginalized. An inclusive workplace is one where people are not left out of key meetings, committees, decisions, important client teams – opportunities that help lead to promotions. Inclusion is ensuring that all of your employees have a respectful, welcoming work environment. Inclusion is recognizing that what makes one person comfortable doesn’t work for another and developing practices that address this. Inclusivity ranges from recognizing non-binary workers and offering gender-neutral pronouns in your HR systems to examining compensation for bias, to setting expectations for senior leadership and board composition.

Why Does It Matter?

Why is it important that we all understand the difference between the two? Because it will be difficult to truly reach both goals – a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace – without everyone understanding and working together to make it happen. For example, if senior leadership or others see diversity only as a numbers game, it is hard to get support for programs or change beyond hiring practices. If you’re a D&I program manager or tasked with leading these initiatives at your company, you may have experienced this already.

You probably also know that candidates care about this. A lot. A company’s commitment and record on both diversity and inclusion matter to today’s job seekers. Efforts to hire a diverse workforce will suffer if you don’t follow up with a great work experience. If your company’s diversity is all at the lower, entry level positions or confined to certain job categories, people will notice. People will leave over unfair treatment, exclusionary practices, and lack of real opportunities, and others will take note. Aside from all the benefits of having a diverse workforce where everyone is treated equally, recruiting and retention issues are a real threat.

Different but Connected

While it is critical to understand the differences between diversity and inclusion and to know that it takes different policies and behaviors to achieve them, their interdependence may be more important to recognize. Companies need to commit to both in order to achieve the best results. One without the other will at best be lacking, unable to truly reap the benefits, and more often completely unsuccessful and detrimental. There is no point in inviting someone to dinner if you are going to leave them having cocktails in the living room, not joining others at the table. They can add nothing to the conversation from the other room.

So, in the end, I think the key thing is to recognize their differences but understand their interconnectedness. The more everyone understands this, the more they can help implement the specific actions and policies that help achieve both goals, and more lasting success.


Have questions about diversity and inclusion? Want to share your ideas on the topic? Feel free to reach out to me to continue the conversation.


Related Articles

What Businesses Can Do to Support Diversity and Help MBEs Right Now

ATR International Earns Latino Leadership, Women-Owned Business Distinctions from Silicon Valley Business Journal

What Is Your Superpower and How Can You Harness It?

Comments are closed.