Diversity and Inclusion: Organizational Behaviour

“Diversity is typically conceptualized as referring to differences between individuals on any attribute that may lead to the perception that another person is different from self…[it] may be seen as a characteristic of a social grouping (i.e., group, organization, society) that reflects the degree to which there are objective or subjective differences between people within the group” (Van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007.)

Characteristics of Diversity


The first point to note here is that diversity refers to any attribute on which people perceive themselves to differ. Not just the fundamental visible characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, nationality, or age.

Those fundamental characteristics are very important in shaping our experience and worldview. However, they are so-called surface-characteristics, things that we see when we first meet each other. We also differ on deep-level characteristics, factors that are not visible, such as our individual differences, which as you know also shape who we are in structural ways.

There is some evidence that surface-level factors may be more important in first encounters. However, that deep-level factors such as values and personality become more significant as we work with colleagues over time. Expanding our lens to include many potential differences allows a deeper understanding of the effects of diversity.

A second point to note is that diversity is a characteristic of a group of people, not of an individual. This is logical, but again, lost in the common usage of the term diversity. I cannot be ‘different’ without a reference point of other people.  Diversity refers to who has a seat at the table.  Inclusion on the other hand refers to how to work and the relationships at that table.




It is more difficult to define simply because it encompasses a range of factors and experiences. The definition below is from the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), the UKs professional body for HR professionals and it captures the individual and organizational aspects of the term: “Workplace inclusion is when people feel valued and accepted in their team and in the wider organisation, without having to conform. Inclusive organizations support employees, regardless of their background or circumstance, to thrive at work.” (CIPD, 2019).

Diversity & Inclusion Challenges in Practice

Given the fundamental psychology underlying our responses to people based on perceived similarity and difference, it becomes clear why hiring a diverse workforce is not in itself enough to unlock the potential benefits of enhanced knowledge and creativity nor to guarantee that presence in the organization will automatically lead to belonging and contribution. Much investment has been made by organizations in implicit bias or other types of diversity awareness training in the hopes of tackling these relational issues but the evidence suggests that training is not particularly effective. Intervening in the natural social processes that lead to inclusion (and exclusion) requires a deep and challenging examination and rework of organizational practice and culture in many cases

1. To examine and understand the nature of workplace diversity and inclusion
2. To explore the behavioral consequences of difference and their practical implications for the success of organizational strategies and practices

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