Diversity Without Inclusion Is Only Skin-Deep

June 1, 2017

To build an inclusive workplace, companies need to look beyond representation and instead focus on integration. Managers should spend more time cultivating a diversity of thought and less time worrying about the optics of diversity.

It’s not enough to recruit from a varied talent pool if the corporate decision-makers don’t also reflect diversity. For instance, I have yet to see evidence demonstrating that hiring more Hispanics to media organizations will help those companies perform better.

At the same time, emphasizing company priorities by slapping labels like “African-American” and “LGBT” on them may be well-intended, but can often lead to the increased marginalization of those communities. These practices create silos that patronize minority staffers while also alienating workers who aren’t minorities.

Diversity problems within the media were especially on display during the 2016 presidential election. News organizations often relied on Hispanic studio guests and writers to weigh in on President Trump’s illegal immigration rhetoric, but not on health care, education and the economy — important issues that affect all people who live in the United States. Different perspectives should be included as part of those discussions.

Know the difference between inherent and acquired diversity.

When a person’s value is only stamped by what’s visible, such as their race, gender or age, their true worth is undermined. I am a 47-year-old, second-generation Peruvian-American, who was born in northern New Jersey and now lives in Connecticut. I’ve been married for 16 years to my Colombian wife and have two kids. These are examples of my inherent diversity – the basic facts of my life. My education, work experience and language skills, though, are examples of acquired diversity — what I have learned. It’s important to understand the difference if you’re trying to promote a workplace that encourages inclusion and innovation.

A study by the Center for Talent Innovation shows that leaders who value both of these dimensions are successful in increasing business and managing costs. The combination of inherent and acquired diversity drives inclusive leadership behaviors such as valuing differences of opinion, delegating responsibility, sharing credit and encouraging risk-taking.

Involve non-minority workers in the diversity dialogue.

If it’s exclusively up to minority individuals to build their own diversity initiatives, then those enterprises run the risk of falling into a cycle of groupthink. It’s the responsibility of all office members to promote creative inclusiveness. In many situations, non-minority employees don’t feel the topic of corporate diversity applies to them. I would even say they sometimes don’t even feel welcome in the discussion.

For example, every Hispanic initiative committee I’ve ever been a part of has only consisted of Hispanic members. Though these groups offered insight into the complex problems within their underrepresented communities, they could have also benefited from opening up the debate to different backgrounds and perspectives. 

Imagine this situation: You’re trying to find a qualified candidate to lead a marketing project focused on educating the Mexican community in Los Angeles about changes to health care. Do you pick the Mexican-American who’s not from LA or the non-minority candidate who lives and works in the city and has relationships within the target community? The inclination is to choose the Mexican-American individual. However, in some cases, an acquired influence can be as important as an inherent connection.

Understanding the value of both can help remind companies that diversity isn’t just skin-deep — it’s part of a business strategy.


Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.


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