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Six ways to move from diversity to inclusion that start with you

This guest blog post is by Sherry Marts, president and CEO, S*Marts Consulting LLC

Your organization has a beautifully written statement of your commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I). You know that embracing and promoting D&I is the right thing to do. You have worked to increase the diversity of your staff, your board, your membership. On paper and in those online photos of your recent annual meeting, it looks like you’re succeeding. And yet:

  • You can’t seem to hang on to the people you hired because they added to the diversity of your staff;
  • Your nominating committee is struggling to find “diversity” candidates for your board; and
  • Although your Women’s Caucus, Black Caucus, LGBTQ Caucus and Hispanic Caucus are thriving, your meeting planning committee seems unable to progress beyond adding a few token “diversity” speakers to the program.

What’s going wrong?

As Elizabeth Engel and I describe in detail in our new whitepaper, “Include is Verb,” (, focusing on diversity is only half the story. The inclusion side of “diversity and inclusion” is crucial to ensure that your organization reaps the benefits of diversity.

Moving beyond diversity to create a culture of inclusion – one in which everyone has opportunities to participate and contribute without having to assimilate or pretend to be someone they aren’t - begins with the work that individuals must do on themselves. That includes steps like:

  • Learn about implicit biases – The unconscious associations that we all make – so you can find ways to recognize and neutralize them in yourself. One example: When it comes to people who are different from you, make your second thought your first action, because your first thought is more likely to subject to implicit bias.
  • Diversify your professional network. Where do you turn for advice, collaboration, commiseration and socializing? What can you do to increase its inclusiveness?
  • Recognize and acknowledge the places where you have privilege – that is, the advantages that accrue because of your race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic status, ability or disability, level of education, religion or other personal characteristics – and where you don’t. Pay attention to the situations in which you hold privilege and how you choose to use it.
  • Invite people you trust to tell you honestly when your privilege is showing. Ask them to point out ways that your own behavior could stand to improve, listen to them when they point out areas for improvement and then work to make the needed change.
  • Educate yourself about the experiences and challenges of those with less privilege than you. Read and watch media that describes the experiences of people who are not like you.
  • Recognize and acknowledge oppression. Oppression is the systemic, pervasive inequality that is present throughout society, that benefits people with more privilege and harms those with less privilege, and that holds privilege in place.

This kind of change requires the willingness to recognize and admit the limitations of your knowledge and experiences, to make mistakes and learn from them and to challenge what you have – privilege – to get what you want: not just diversity, but true inclusion.

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