Diversity and Inclusion or the Management of Boxes

Diversity and inclusion has a become a major topic for many corporates, although there is a very large gap developing between those organisations who champion D&I management and those who are just doing the basics. This gap is widening, especially in industries relying heavily on high skilled staff, D&I becomes business critical. I believe that way we approach D&I today needs a rethink as we are basically still managing boxes. Before we get into that though, let’s take a step back to observe some trends in and what more standard approaches look like.

Trends in D&I

D&I management has evolved quite significantly over that last decade keeping pace with the societies around us. You still find a large number of corporates without any or very basic approaches to D&I. On the flipside you will find organisations who have taken their D&I to the next level and turned it into a competitive advantage. Within these organisations you often find the following five characteristics;

CEO`s involved

D&I is the job of the most senior leader or a direct report. They believe in D&I and see the impact on their organisation and the wider society. They often take a lead in the public discussion also. A great example could be the outcry of many corporates in regards to the North Carolina’s  controversial HB2 ‘Bathroom Bill’, which rolls back protections for LGBT people in the state.   

D&I for Innovation

Many organisations focus on D&I mainly to do the right things, to follow relevant legislation and to be seen as a good employer. On the other hand more modern organisations see diversity as a tool to achieve the corporate agenda. Diversity often is part of their innovation efforts as diverse backgrounds bring diverse thinking and skills.

Diversity now includes diversity of thought

These organisation have developed a much wider understanding what Diversity stands for. Very often they also include diversity of thought as they make a conscious decision to foster diversity of thought in their organisation to drive innovation and competitiveness.

D&I makes business sense

They have clear KPIs for what they want to achieve with D&I. They don’t only believe that it makes good  business sense, they actually measure the ROI and optimise what they do.

Technology to help avoid (un)conscious bias

They use technology to help them reduce effects of (un)conscious bias in selection processes. They also use data to analyse how they can attract and retain a productive diverse workforce. Their decision and actions are backed by analyses across multiple data sources collected by modern systems.

The very basic approach

As a first step companies typically implement policies around diversity. They are often focussed on equal opportunity and anti-discrimination. Also D&I is now often seen in corporate value statements and in management behaviour assessments. This approach is relatively easy as it mainly requires working through all internal policies and other documents and making them politically correct. It also bears the major advantage of some protection against any unfair treatment claims. Whilst I appreciate this is a step in the right direction, I think it is a very small one and not effective. For example, women have been the main focus of D&I and relevant policies at most major corporates for decades and still we find that global executive boards are male dominated. We see the same trends with BMI and other groups that are commonly featured in diversity policies but representation remains notably low. 


One of the most well-known concepts is that of internal groups such as women`s network, LGBT network, diversity groups and so on. Surprisingly, according to SHRM, just 17% of corporates in the US use them. More than 30 % of major corporates have D&I related groups but just 10% of smaller organisations do the same. Interestingly though, most of these networks struggle to gain members, they are clearly an in-between measure as a truly diverse organisation surely would not need such networking groups.


Within just over 30% of corporates in the US diversity is part of the annual training cycle, though 77% of related sessions are only half a day or less. They often focus on basic concepts such as (un)conscious bias, leadership for women and so on. These interventions are often delivered without any specific budget. These figures clearly show that D&I has not reached any priority within the L&D offering for employees. 

Quotas and widening the net for recruitment

A more recent topic is quotas. In some countries that is a politically driven agenda. Many corporates have adopted the idea and have set targets such as ensuring their board is 30% female by 2020. Interestingly, in the US 57% of corporates have recruitment strategies designed to address Diverse candidate pools. This is mainly driven to enlarge pools to gain talent from.

That’s management of boxes and needs a rethink

In the US 66% of organisations do not measure the impact of their D&I initiatives at all and only 7% measure the ROI. The main point for me remains something very different. All the approaches I discussed are designed to recognise that there are diverse people, but to some degree they just put everyone in a box. There are now many more boxes than some years ago and they are specifically 'designed' for each group.  The outcome is we are still doing the same old thing, defending people by labels, pigeonholing or putting people into predefined boxes. Today the main message is, all boxes are equal and fine. This is achieved with singling out each of the boxes to address the specific needs. 

The challenge with that though is generation Z. They are now entering the workforce and they don’t think in these categories. They also find terminology just as LGBT outdated, they are just who they are today and they may be different tomorrow or not. Boundaries are perceived as fluid and they don't categorically define them. I believe Generation Z will shock current diversity management to its core.

On one hand they will struggle to understand what we are doing and why, on the other, traditional leaders who just got their head around the current “box approach” will certainly face enormous challenges with Gen Z when management of boxes won't work anymore.


SHRM Diversity & Inclusion 2014 

Forbes Five Trends Driving Workplace Diversity