What comes first, diversity or inclusion? (hint: neither)

Ruby Dark

Nov 15, 2021

If you want to move the needle when it comes to diversity and inclusion in your company, you might be wondering ‘well, what comes first, D or I?’. The answer might shock you… it’s a different letter altogether. Start with E for equality. To foster a diverse and inclusive workplace, focus first on building equitable, fair and transparent foundations that anchor all of your processes.

The world of diversity and inclusion is full of jargon and acronyms. Like the age-old question of the chicken and the egg, maybe you’re wondering what comes first, diversity or inclusion?

The key is not to think of diversity and inclusion as separate concerns. You can’t have one without the other. In fact, they’re both anchored by equality.

To really make a difference when it comes to diversity and inclusion, you’ll need fair and transparent foundations for everything you do. This means that we have to focus on the structures, not the individuals. It’s incredibly hard to shift behaviour towards fairness when you don’t have structures in place to limit bias.

A hand holding a glass, mirror ball which reflects a modern glass building.

Our previous posts covered what exactly ‘diversity‘ and ‘inclusion‘ are, make sure to give them a read.

In this post, we’re introducing the Fair HQ philosophy. If you embed equitable foundations across your organisation, diversity and inclusion will follow.

Read more about the science behind our approach here.

What is equality?

Equality means that individuals get ahead based on objective metrics of performance and skill, not based on who they know or what they look like. People must face fair treatment and get equal access to opportunities, information and recognition. To bring this to life, we need to balance power and eliminate discrimination.

Let’s take performance evaluation as an example. You might ask managers to provide some written feedback outlining what their reports have done well along with some areas for improvement. Seems straightforward enough. It gives managers a lot of freedom in what they choose to comment on, but it also leaves the process open to ambiguity, which is exactly where bias can skew things.

A Harvard study on performance reviews found that women were more likely than men to receive vague feedback that didn’t offer advice on what to work on. Without developmental feedback, women get left in the dark on how to advance, slowing their career progression.

When managers were given a clear set of criteria to review employees against, their evaluations were more consistent and fair.

A tower of 5 smooth stones balancing on top of each other.

After introducing a rating scale to evaluate employee performance, one US law firm saw that all employee groups received more constructive, specific feedback than the previous year. For people of colour, comments containing constructive feedback rose from 17% to 49%.

This just goes to show the power of transparency and consistency. The day-to-day structures you have in place across all people processes should guarantee equal treatment for all employees. Once you’ve crafted policies and practices with equality in mind, diversity and inclusion can thrive.

Why is equality important for D&I?

We’ve shown you how diversity and inclusion are deeply interconnected topics. And the glue that holds them together is equality.

Welcoming diversity in your organisation is wonderful, but without equitable foundations, people who don’t belong to the majority group may face subtly different treatment. For diversity to flourish and to foster an inclusive environment, you need to eliminate bias across all of your processes.

5 hands palm down on a wooden table, all of different skin tones.

It sounds like a tall order, but big shifts start with small steps. You can embed equality into everything you do by changing your daily practices.

It can be as small as asking all candidates the same interview questions in the same order to ensure consistent treatment. Or as big as setting up a progression framework with clearly defined criteria to determine promotion decisions.

These interventions send a clear message: people get ahead based on merit, not who they know, what they look like or where they come from.

How do I know if I have an equitable organisation?

To measure equality, we can look at the outcomes for different groups across all of your people processes. For example, are women promoted at the same rate as men? Do Black people receive raises and bonuses at the same rate as other ethnic groups in your company?

If you see that some groups get ahead easier than others, it’s a sign that you need to change up your way of doing things. This could be by adding transparency to decision-making processes, by implementing stronger policies, by setting strict criteria to guide decisions or by adding extra layers of accountability and oversight.

You have to go far beyond tick-box exercises and one-off training sessions. You need a strategy that encompasses all of your activities all of the time. This will give you a strong, equitable foundation to build a diverse and inclusive culture.

A bronze statue of a woman holding up balance scales to represent justice and fairness.

Curious about what to get started with?

The most powerful insights on what you need to change will come from a comprehensive audit of your business. At Fair HQ, we analyse your entire organisation, from people processes to company culture.

Our data-driven insights reveal where you thrive, and where you fall short. We empower businesses to embed diversity, equality and inclusion in everything they do with recommendations backed by the latest research in behavioural science.

Have we piqued your interest?

Start your journey with Fair HQ

Click here to book a demo

Backing it up:

Bohnet, I., (2016). ‘What Works: Gender equality by design’ Harvard University Press

Mackenzie, L N., Wehner, J. & Correll, S J. (2019) ‘Why Most Performance Evaluations Are Biased, and How to Fix ThemHarvard Business Review

Williams, J. et al. (2021) ‘How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance ReviewsHarvard Business Review