Flip the script: Inclusion and diversity

Think back to that middle school dance where you were standing alone. That’s how my good friend Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks NBA basketball team and a former executive at AT&T, describes the experience for diverse employees at workplaces that lack inclusion.

While many companies have taken great strides to improve employee diversity, it’s not enough to simply be invited to the dance. The focus needs to shift to inclusion, which in this analogy is being invited onto the dancefloor itself.

It is widely recognized that diverse backgrounds beget diverse thinking, encourage problem-solving and ultimately benefit the bottom line. However, this can be meaningless without a platform to share each team member’s unique thinking and incubate these ideas. While diversity efforts shift demographics, the deep structural inequalities that persist in our communities do not relent when you enter the office. 

An inclusive workplace equips and empowers everyone to contribute, make an impact, pursue success, enhance innovation and, at the most basic level, operate as their authentic self. It is only with an attentive focus and deep commitment to inclusion that we can move the needle on culture and create workplaces that embrace this new normal. At Dow, we are learning not to put the proverbial cart before the horse and we are committed to prioritizing both inclusion and diversity.

While the reordering of these two words may seem inconsequential, or, to the skeptics, even gimmicky, the implications are huge. A workplace that promotes inclusion, provides access to opportunities and demonstrates mobility, can attract diverse minds to work, collaborate and lead. Without inclusion, diverse talent will be expected to assimilate to a culture that was not designed to support it. As a member of our leadership team, I will be transparent in saying that achieving the former can be more complex, and seeped with nuance.

Inclusion requires the acknowledgment and preservation of individual backgrounds, experiences and cultures, and the augmenting of internal structures to mirror that understanding. A common framework for success assumes that we are all lined up at the same starting place, and inclusion challenges businesses to be more human than that. While this all sounds conceptual, and difficult to implement, the inclusion challenge calls for a new type of leadership, one fostered through strengthening employee training and career development programs, placing an increased focus on mentorship, expanding continuing education opportunities and empowering employee resource groups. At the highest-level, inclusion is the disciplined ability to listen and adjust, until your business’s culture has been co-created.

So, start inviting the people at your party to dance. Take accountability and move boldly to address the challenge that the best thinkers, problem-solvers and team members may not be at your table, and demographic changes alone will not correct that. As communicators, business leaders and employees, we have to emphasize the human element of diversity efforts and be relentless about fostering inclusion, otherwise, we will always fall short of what we are capable of accomplishing.


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Matt Davis is the president of Dow North America and senior vice president of Global Public Affairs and Government Affairs for The Dow Chemical Company. In his role, he is responsible for building strategic partnerships with stakeholders to advance Dow’s North America growth agenda and reputation.

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