Sandy Cross is chief people officer of PGA of America. Views are the author's own.
What do you think of when you hear the words "diversity" and "inclusion"? Many people use them almost interchangeably, but though connected, they are — simply put — very different. Knowing the difference will help you tap the power of their promise and help your company do the same, thereby delivering on that promise and utilizing the potential of every single mind and talent on your team and in your organization.
When it comes to diversity, we are including a variety of descriptors that go into making each person unique — descriptors such as age, race, ethnicity, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and communication style. And that's only naming a few! The key thing to understand is the spirit of the words. As American activist Verna Myers has aptly put it, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance."
As the Chief People Officer of the PGA of America, I've seen firsthand how golf and inclusion are intertwined. If you ask anyone who golfs, they'll usually say they began because someone invited them to play. At the PGA, we cannot assume a person or community that is not engaging with our sport knows they are welcome here or that this is a sport for them. We have to actively extend our hand and not only invite them to the party but ask them to dance — or, in golf parlance, invite them to play and create a welcoming atmosphere for them to do so.
These warm and welcoming invites are the way an organization, big or small, harnesses the power of the diversity around them — and then, once you do that, you have to leverage everything that diversity brings to the table. If you don't, you'll end up playing alone — which, granted, one can do in golf. But as an organization, you won't get better and you won't grow.
An important takeaway: a diverse environment doesn't always mean an inclusive one. You have to take that extra step (or, as the case may be, steps). Without proper execution, these terms become thinly veiled marketing strategies that will alienate more than they invite. Well-intentioned initiatives will fall flat, and in an increasingly politicized climate, they can create a defensive and polarized environment. This is avoidable.
When senior leadership makes inclusion a priority in their words — and more importantly, in their actions — a culture of expansion, creativity and fortitude can take root. By not doing so, leaders limit their organization's growth by essentially rubber-stamping the status quo…which, when left unattended, is often a culture of fitting in, fear, and suppressing the very attributes that are the "miracle grow" to your company's success. The results are stifled creativity and disengagement when people do not feel safe to reveal their unique perspective and authentic selves.
An essential point to note: A well-intentioned mistake is too often asking the underrepresented employee to teach leadership about their struggles in the workplace or organization. For example, it is not the responsibility of a person of color to educate managers or co-workers on bias, thus bearing the weight of an organization's struggle with inclusivity. Inclusivity requires top-down learning, listening, and commitment. It's a practice that is expressed in small, medium and large actions that result in long-term sustainable change.
Another obstacle to look out for is the occasional tendency to delegate your organization's diversity and inclusion responsibilities to one person or simply hand them off to your human resources department. HR is a valuable resource that can and should be tapped, but make sure the operations and the optics are not simply meeting "compliance." The way leaders message around this opportunity and involve other departments is key. That's not to say there aren't natural points of connectivity between inclusion and HR, but holistically speaking, there are many more points of connectivity and far greater impact when inclusion is embedded across every area of a business. These points are the keys to your success and should not be overlooked.
Finally, with a truly inclusive environment spearheaded by committed leaders, your organization can attract and retain the most diverse and competitive talent — and the most diverse and loyal customers. Organizations that do this are more successful in responding to change, spurring innovation, and exceeding financial goals. Inclusion is not only better for individuals, it's better for business as a whole and should be put at the top and bottom of every meeting agenda so employees and management can think critically about how it is prioritized in the day to day — every day.
By implementing measurable techniques such as employee surveys, informal check-ins and listening tours spearheaded by leadership, organizations can actively track how successful they are when it comes to this key — yet often underdeveloped and overlooked — asset. Inclusion should be the cornerstone of your business.
The takeaway is this: if you start with inclusion, diversity (and success) will follow.