Why we are doing Diversity & Inclusion Management wrong

and a teaser into how we could do it differently

I’m seven months into my new job, there of about five where I’ve actively been working on my assignment focusing on diversity and inclusion. This time has, to a great extent, been filled with observations, conversations and getting familiar with current strategies, culture and norms within the company.

The topic of diversity and inclusion lies close to my heart. For the latest years I have actively been holding up the idea that we should put more value into who we are rather than what we are, both when valuing ourselves and others. To me, diversity and inclusion simply means that we can be ourselves, whoever and however we are, and that we are seen, valued, accepted and appreciated for being exactly that person; that we can be different but still belong.

To be frank, I think that companies (even humanity in general) have come short in the topic of diversity and what it means. When looking it up in an online dictionary I get the definition: the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.: diversity in the workplace. With this definition companies are currently measuring those attributes as some KPI’s calling it for Diversity Management. Or with other words: they are putting people in boxes — labelling them — based on outer attributes, mixing those boxes and including them in the society/workplace, and then they call themselves diverse and inclusive companies.

Well, I think we can do better than that!

There are so many reasons for why this is not giving us any beneficial results that I don’t really know where to start. But I will try my best to put it up clearly —but first we have to understand and define WHY diversity and inclusion matters and in what context.



In this article I want to focus on why diversity and inclusion matters for a company, taking my employer IKEA as an example, and why we are not doing it well enough. I will then in a follow-up article write about how we could do it differently.

So let’s look at IKEA’s Diversity & Inclusion Approach:

“Recognising our co-workers’ differences contributes to creativity and supports our growth. We strive to have a diverse and inclusive work environment where co-workers feel valued for their uniqueness, recognised for their diverse talents, and where co-workers can be themselves.
Simply put: we believe the uniqueness of every individual makes IKEA better!”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement and support it wholeheartedly. Diversity should contribute to creativity and support growth, and everyone should feel valued and recognised for who they are, being themselves at all times.

But what of our different attributes contribute to creativity and support growth? Does it contribute to creativity and supports growth to have both black and white people included in a group? Or if we mix genders? Or sexualities? What about nationalities?

What we are after when measuring those attributes is our different values, skills and world-views — and all what that includes. Those outer attributes, such as colour, gender, sexuality or nationality, do not, to the greatest extent, define who we are or what values, skills and worldview we have. Well, it maybe did some years back when we could draw some conclusions about people’s worldview, ideology and behaviour based on those traits. But today — and definiately even more in the far-ahead future — where both digitalisation and globalisation challenge our worldview faster than ever through online stories and global experiences, it will in a few years time be fully irrelevant for the definition of diversity which country you originally come from or if you are black or white. We are so much more complex than that as human beings — and that is the true beauty of diversity.

So — if gender, nationality, age, sexuality and colour is not relevant for the main purpose of companies’ diversity management, to contribute to creativity and support growth, what is then relevant? What does contribute to creativity and support growth?

Before we answer those questions, let’s dig a bit deeper into what we mean by creativity and growth to understand what we really are looking for.

Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness,or imagination.

Creativity is the cornerstones of new innovation. It’s to be able to come up with the new thing that will sustain the company and adapt it’s strategies and offerings to an ever-changing world, even give it competitive advantage. No wonder it’s so strongly linked to the word growth.

Growth: 1) development from a simpler to a more complex stage; 
2) development from another but related form or stage.

Now this is becoming interesting. To grow means to develop, either to a more complex state or to a different state. But how can that be measured with gender, nationality or gender? Do we become more female? More black? More Hungarian or differently Swedish?

IKEA works also a lot with succession and identifying talents where growth mindset is a key. But how is that measured? Is it subjective or objective? Or just a feeling? How can we know that a person is growing, either to a more complex state (personal development) or to another stage (skills)?

At IKEA it’s a common phrase: “When you grow, IKEA grows too”.
Are we then believing that if we mix genders, nationalities and age, for instance, is ensures the individual’s personal growth or increased skills which then enables the company’s growth?

Well, if we could predict that we would be much more successful than we are now, I promise.



So — let’s take a look at how we are doing it wrong.

  1. Measuring outer attributes, let’s take gender for example which is a high priority at IKEA right now where we aim to have have 50/50 gender balance in the workplace, is NOT about diversity. It’s about EQUALITY, which is not the same as diversity. Maybe another side of the same coin, contributing to basic human rights and inclusion, but definitely not the same thing and should not be used for the same purpose. It’s not less important but it has a different purpose. 
    To have a team consisting of 5 men and 5 women is not a diverse team, it’s merely a gender equal team. Is it contributing to creativity and supporting growth? Maybe, maybe not. To be be frank, we have no clue. Because gender says very little about who we are, what we are capable of and what worldview we hold. Due to strong historical gender roles we may be able to make some assumptions about what men and women may bring to the table but with even more equality in the world where men and women are treated equality and have the same opportunities (meaning that this will be even more relevant in about 10–50 years time, as we still have a long way to go to reach 100% gender equality) we can not take those assumptions as a truth, only stereotyping. It’s a bias.
  2. Measuring X, Y, Z etc. to make sure that we include different views will never comprehend the complexity of humanity, and will always exclude those who do not fit into the commonly accepted norm of society. If we take gender diversity (which is the commonly used term today even though it not really describing diversity) as an example again we are only measuring the numbers of men and women in a workplace. But what about those who have a hard time identifying themselves as either a man or a woman? Transsexual people, for example? Is it then the physical appearance that should be measured or the feeling people have about who they are? What if they don’t even consider themselves as some specific gender? Should they be forced do adapt to the current norms of men/women or do we have space for them in our society being something different than a man or a woman?
    Let me tell you a little fable.
In Far-Far Land there was a little village by a river called Blue. In the mountains, 20 km away, was another village, Brown. The people in Blue had blue eyes and the people in Brown had brown eyes. Due to the different environment and living conditions, river vs. mountain, they had different skill-sets, values and world views. Both tribes considered themselves better than the other because they knew that the others would not be able to do as good as they did at home. 
One day a big dragon comes and threatens both the villages. The people decide to work together on the task to kill the dragon. They realised that they would do better if they combined their skill sets and worldview, that together they would be stronger, so they decided to create teams consisting of 50/50 blue-eyed people and brown eyed-people. It was a success, the dragon was killed as they knew every stone and every hill from the river to the mountains, and with their combined knowledge and skills, which increased their creativity allowing them to find new ways of fighting the dragon, they managed to get it dead. Through this experience they grew a lot, and acknowledging that it was not about being better or worse, just different, they decided to emerge the villages and work together from now on and continue to mix brown- and blue-eyed people in their teams. Time past, and brown-and blue eyed people got kids together. Some of the kids had brown eyes and some blue eyes, and some even, very few though, had green eyes, and they all grew up together. The teams were though still mixed with 50/50 blue and brown eye diversity, as it was called, but the green-eyed people were given brown or blue contact lenses to adapt to the pre-decided rules of the society. It had worked so well, so why change? The eye-colour definitely defined who they were and what they were capable of, right?
Then, a dragon arrives to the area again. The villains, remembering how well it went last time where they combined the skills of the blue- and brown eyed people, met him confident with the same team constellations, 50/50 blue and brown (and some green-eyed people with contact lenses). But something was different! They all had the same skills and ideas, and no-one was building on each other knowledge or skills as they all knew the same things. In that situation they didn’t become stronger, and the dragon succeeded to kill the entire population.

Ok. Maybe a very simple example (and dramatic in the end), but you get my point? Transferring the message of this story to how we are currently measuring outer attributes believing it’s bringing diversity to the table is that, yes, maybe it was relevant to measure those attributes when they did tell us anything about the values, skills and world view of people coming from different environments. But the more we get mixed as global citizens it doesn’t necessary increase creativity and support growth to have different genders, nationalities or age in a team because those attributes can’t give us any certain information about our values, skills or worldview that can be of use for diversity management. And when we limit us to what we already know, such as men and women, or blue and brown eyes, we eliminate world views that come from experiences that we are not familiar with because there hasn’t existed space for it to be acknowledged. Hiding miserably behind contact lenses because the norm doesn’t accept green eye-colour in the system, or hiding miserable as a transsexual because it’s not acknowledged in the society is not not making us better off, rather the contrary. We are not utilising the full potential of our great human diversity and everything it brings to the table. Including women at the table is inclusive and good for them (and society as whole), but it’s not inclusive and good for those who are outside the man-woman box. And there we still have a long way to go..



So — how can we redefine diversity to reach its purpose of contributing to creativity and support growth?

Well, it so simple that it almost feels ridiculous that we are not already doing it.

Instead of measuring outer attributes, trying to get to the table different values, skills and world views, we should simply measure exactly that — values, skills and world views!

In that way we can better work with the complexity of being human, we are not putting people into any pre-defined boxes (which feels exclusive for people who don’t find any of the pre-defined box fitting them), and we can even measure and predict a good team constellation the serves the task at hand. Then diversity and inclusion will not only contribute to creativity and new innovation, but it will also maintain current business performance by contributing to a high engagement level throughout the organisation where each and every individual is seen and acknowledge for his current skill sets, worldview and where he is in his personal development.

And regarding the growth — it’s also measurable! Thanks to research on values and human development it is possible to both measure human and organisational growth, and that we can do from the same data as to ensure diversity in teams and organisations.

To not lose you as a reader in a way too long article I will write a separate one about my current findings on how we can manage diversity and inclusion differently and more effectively than we have done so far with a data-driven approach.

To be continued..