5 lessons to launch inclusion

Posted by Kathi Enderes and Nehal Nangia on December 17, 2019.

Deloitte research shows that in the last five years, urgency around diversity and inclusion (D&I) has increased by 53 percent.1 The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, and the business case for the impact of D&I on critical business and talent outcomes (e.g., higher productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction) has been established.2 But despite several decades of having D&I initiatives in place, close to 40 percent of organizations reported that they don’t attain the anticipated value from their efforts in this area.3 What can organizations do to address this?

Capture value from diversity through inclusion

Workforce diversity is not synonymous with inclusion. While diversity focuses on differences, inclusion points toward belonging; inclusion provides people with the feeling that they’re treated equitably, respected, part of the group, “safe” to express themselves, and empowered to develop. An organization can have a highly diverse workforce, but if its people don’t feel included, the organization won’t be able to fully leverage the benefit of that diversity.

Inclusion is the mechanism that releases the power of diversity. To capture the benefits of diversity, organizations can place a greater emphasis on the “I” in D&I, seeking to create more inclusive work environments by making work more meaningful—purposeful not just to the organization but also to the personal goals of individuals.4

Unleash inclusion with the 5 Ls

Organizations can leverage five lessons to help bolster inclusion in the workplace. They are easy to remember as the 5 L’s: Listen, Learn, Leverage, Lead, and Launch.

The five L’s that help bolster inclusion


Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019

1. Listen to the workforce—and address inclusion shortfalls.
Workers are often the best source of truth for an organization to understand where barriers to inclusion exist. Organizations that deploy a robust listening strategy and include multiple listening channels and tools—such as performance reviews, emails, frequent pulse surveys, organizational network analysis, and more—are more likely to have a more inclusive work environment.5

Using these listening channels to focus exclusively on measuring overall statistics and representations can distract organizations from identifying and addressing inclusion gaps. Organizations should use listening channels to measure inclusion in addition to diversity and focus on outliers rather than on just averages. For example, an organization might find cause to celebrate if 85 percent of its workers say they feel included. However, careful evaluation of the organization might reveal that it’s about 85 percent homogeneous, which may imply that inclusion exists only in nondiverse groups. It’s the 15 percent of workers who do not feel included that requires attention—a story that would not have been uncovered if the outliers weren’t considered.

2. Learn about diverse working styles—then, actively increase team diversity.
An inclusive organization recognizes that diversity goes deeper than traditional dimensions like gender, race, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Diversity extends to how people think, work, and behave—especially the ways in which they make decisions and how they do their best work. One example is Deloitte’s Diversity of Thinking Model, which is a framework that demonstrates how people tend to solve problems using one or a combination of these six approaches: evidence, people, process, outcomes, risks, and options.6

It is imperative for organizations to understand these diverse working styles and leverage them to benefit the worker and the team. The most successful leaders and teams don’t just respond to the working style differences around them.7 Instead, they actively cultivate diversity and inclusion—in leadership pairings, within teams, and across organizations—by bringing together the complementary strengths of individuals with different working styles to drive business results.

3. Leverage the diversity of alternative workers—by incorporating their ideas and contributions to the work.
Today, there are 100 million alternative workers—people who do crowd work or work as contractors, freelancers, or consultants—across the globe.8 These alternative workers often represent a wellspring of valuable talent and a diverse pool of workers in a time when it’s challenging to find the right skills and capabilities. However, our research suggests that most organizations treat alternative workers as a transactional solution rather than as a strategically important source of talent.9

Organizations should recognize the diversity that these workers bring in the form of backgrounds, skills, capabilities, and experiences and enable practices to fully leverage this diversity. This implies incorporating the workers’ ideas and contributions where they are needed the most to advance business priorities. In a tight labor market with severe talent shortages, capitalizing on the diverse skills sets and contributions of alternative workers can extend an organization’s scope of inclusion while giving it a productivity boost.

4. Lead inclusively—and imbue work with meaning.
Leaders play a critical role in creating an inclusive work environment. Inclusive leadership behaviors help each person find the connection between the organization’s purpose and the individual’s unique meaning. Unfortunately, only one-third of leaders can accurately assess whether others perceive them as being inclusive. Part of the issue has been a lack of clarity about what inclusive leadership means.10

Senior leaders should model inclusivity and work to have other organizational leaders follow their example. Deloitte has identified six leadership behaviors that support inclusion. Inclusive leaders embody these six signature traits, enabling them to better support diverse customers, ideas, and individuals.11

Six signature traits of inclusive leadership


Source: Deloitte Insights, 2016.

5. Launch an inclusive culture—owned by everyone.
High-performing organizations move beyond a programmatic approach to D&I to one in which inclusion is part of the fabric of the organization and is owned by everyone.12 One way in which organizations can create this accountability is through an increased focus on team-level engagement and how it’s tied to performance metrics. This drives both leaders and workers to steer behaviors toward improving engagement and workforce experience, which is likely to happen when everyone on a team feels included and valued.

An inclusive culture matters

We all want to be valued, respected, and treated fairly—to feel like we belong. These are all critical aspects of feeling included. Organizations must strive to imbue work with meaning, so they create inclusive cultures that unleash the power of diversity. Our High-Impact Diversity & Inclusion research found a variety of benefits associated with inclusive cultures, including improved performance, agility, innovation, business outcomes, and financial results.

The benefits of an inclusive culture


Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2017.

Organizations can start fostering inclusion by adopting the lessons within the “five Ls”: Listen, Learn, Leverage, Lead, and Launch. That way, organizations don’t need to rely on a sixth L—Luck—to advance inclusion.

A complete version of the report on these lessons, including specific examples and practices, is available to members on the Bersin website.

If your organization is innovating in the area of D&I, we’d love to hear from you! Contact Kathi Enderes (kenderes@deloitte.com) and/or Nehal Nangia (nnangia@deloitte.com) to share your story. If you are not a Bersin member but want to know more, visit the Bersin website.

Kathi Enderes, PhD, is a vice president and the talent and workforce research leader at BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Nehal Nangia is a research manager, talent and workforce performance, at BersinTM, Deloitte Consulting LLP.


1 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report: Rewriting the rules for the digital age, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte University Press, 2017.

2 Why Diversity Matters, McKinsey & Company / Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, January 2015, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters.

3 High-Impact Diversity & Inclusion: Maturity Model and Top Findings, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Stacia Sherman Garr and Candace Atamanik, 2017.

4 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.

5 Seven Top Findings for Driving High-Impact People Analytics, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Madhura Chakrabarti, PhD, 2017.

6 Which Two Heads Are Better Than One?: How diverse teams create breakthrough ideas and make smarter decisions, Juliet Bourke / Australian Institute of Company Directors, December 2017.

7 High-Impact Diversity and Inclusion analysis, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019

8 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.

9 2019 Global Human Capital Trends: Leading the social enterprise—Reinvent with a human focus, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights, 2019.

10 The six signature traits of inclusive leadership: Thriving in a diverse world, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights / Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, 2016.

11 Reprinted with permission from Deloitte Insights and Juliet Bourke. (1) The Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership: Thriving in a Diverse World, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte Insights / Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, 2016; and (2) Interview, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019.

12 “The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths,” Deloitte Review / Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon, January 22, 2018.

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