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Belonging to a group, a team, or an organization doesn’t have to mean conforming. You can be both unique and be a team player. In fact, that’s what you as a leader want to encourage. To go beyond diversity and champion inclusion. Your reward will be higher employee commitment and engagement.
woman with i matter sign

man with motley tie and buttonTo illustrate the difference between diversity and inclusion, imagine that you’re throwing a party. Diversity occurs when you invite someone different from most of your other guests. Inclusion happens when you introduce them to your friends and engage them in conversation with others.

At work diversity is the first step. As your organization implements diversity, your challenge is to see that everyone in your diverse workforce feels included. According to Carolyn O’Hara, writing in Who’s Being Left Out on Your Team?, two things need to happen to make an employee feel included.

Fitting In

Employees need to feel that they belong in your organization, in their position, and that their contributions to the team are valued. That does not mean that anyone wants their uniqueness overlooked.

Standing Out

At the same time each employee wants to feel that she or he is unique and that they contribute something singular, something only they or very few can offer. Inclusion, then, requires you to know your employees intimately enough to perceive how and where they stand out and to make smart use of their uniqueness.

As leader you have to look for hidden assets and talents, recognize emerging skills, and give your employees opportunities to develop them. O’Hara points to research that verifies the benefits of inclusion. Employees who feel included are much more productive, their performance is higher, they are more loyal, they are more trustworthy, and they work harder. Our own research at Align4Profit tells us that high commitment flows from inclusion. We understand that inclusion motivates higher levels of engagement.

Motivating Engagement begins by allowing and encouraging every employee to contribute to the best of their ability in rewarding work based on that employee’s unique ability to contribute. Fostering self-directed action produces highly committed, highly motivated, and highly engaged employees.

Don’t Diminish Difference

To motivate higher commitment by motivating engagement, don’t assume that people want their differences downplayed in order to be part of the group. Celebrate everyone’s uniqueness by matching their roles with their existing skill sets, then encourage new skill development.

Challenge Proactively

As your organization implements diversity, your leadership challenge is to ensure that everyone in your diverse workforce feels included.

Give each of your employees a shot at new challenges suited to where your intimate understanding of them tells you they need to develop. Your quiet, introverted employees who, you know from coaching discussions, want to develop social skills—give them shot at running a meeting or presenting to a client.

In a group ask, “what do you think?” to the employee who has great ideas but seldom shares them. Ask the guy with the big heart how your decisions may affect people. Encourage the “all-woman” team member to talk about what people may be feeling about a proposed change. Actively use the diversity of thoughts and insights of all team members.

Ask yourself the title of O’Hara’s article, Who’s Being Left Out on Your Team? Then respond immediately by including them more fully and appropriately. Read her article and review her lists of dos and don’ts.


Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.