“Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” This statement, commonly heard in DEI circles, unwittingly reveals a key shortcoming in how many companies understand inclusion. The party belongs to an “owner” who decides who’s on the guest list and who gets to dance. Even when a diverse group is invited, the power still rests within a certain group or individual. But there is an alternative: a company where all employees have a say in whether to throw a party and who can attend, and where everyone can show off their moves without having to wait for someone else’s extended hand to head to the dance floor.
Ensuring that different perspectives from members of different groups are truly leveraged in organizational decision-making is critical for any company that is serious about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and, by extension, driving innovation and organizational performance. Specifically, based on our consulting and research on DEI for organizations across a variety of industries around the world, we believe that companies need to look critically at how and by whom decisions are made and to investigate whether ideas generated and expressed by employees who are part of different demographic groups all have an equal chance to affect organizational decision-making.
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Many companies emphasize the importance of increasing diversity and inclusion in decision-making teams and promoting processes that encourage employees to express their differences in opinion. It is naive, however, to expect that once diversity is present and expressed, equity in decision-making will necessarily follow.
In other words, having a seat at the table does not mean that one’s expressed views and contributions will, in fact, be integrated into decision outcomes or crystallized in company actions. When such viewpoints have little or no real impact on decisions, diversity benefits for team and organizational decision outcomes may be lost, and underrepresented groups may struggle to feel included within their organizations.
Take, for example, this workplace experience that one woman of color shared:
I was at the monthly strategic management team meeting of my company. Managers once again encouraged everyone in the team to express their thoughts about a recent plan being pushed by top management to bring in external consultants. I felt supported by their inclusive approach and expressed some of my concerns and suggested an alternative plan.
1. T. Wagner, R.J. Lutz, and B.A. Weitz, “Corporate Hypocrisy: Overcoming the Threat of Inconsistent Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions,” Journal of Marketing 73, no. 6 (December 2009): 77-91.
2. D.R. Avery, E.N. Ruggs, L.R. Garcia, et al., “Improve Your Diversity Measurement for Better Outcomes,” MIT Sloan Management Review 64, no. 2 (winter 2023): 54-59.
3. I. Carboni, A. Parker, and N.S. Langowitz, “Mapping Exclusion in the Organization,” MIT Sloan Management Review 63, no. 2 (winter 2022): 59-63.