In Review: The Inclusion Dividend

Originally published 3/5/2016

If you’ve ever met me, you know I’m a voracious reader, and I’m constantly making references to books and articles I’ve read.  In an effort to give credit where it’s due, I usually reference the author and title of wherever I’ve retrieved this data from.  I realized that I also give this information because my hope is that others will find the tidbit of information interesting enough to pick up the book themselves.  However, we all have competing priorities, and if reading isn’t necessarily a passion of yours, it can be hard to make time to read book after book (for the record, I listen to books during my commute to and from work, which has proven very effective).  Recognizing the unlikelihood that people might actually read these books, I wanted to start a section of the blog where I review books I’ve read that I think are particularly worthwhile.  I first started this trend with my #2015bestnine post as more of a teaser.

I recently finished The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan.   Having read The Loudest Duck, also about diversity in the workplace, by Laura Liswood, I honestly wasn’t sure how much I would get out of The Inclusion Dividend.  It was recommended by a colleague months ago, and I had been putting off listening to it.  In The Loudest Duck, Liswood describes how we as individuals can go beyond a “check the box” approach to diversity in the workplace to actually leveraging the diverse perspectives, experiences, and skills of those we hire.  While there is certainly some of this in The Inclusion Dividend, there was much more explanation as to how we’ve ended up in our current situation and why it’s good for business to overcome our biases.  Kaplan and Donovan use many examples that remind readers of situations they’ve experienced personally or have surely witnessed.  They describe how seemingly innocuous actions on the part of a business executive can snowball into blatant bias.

One of the parts I enjoyed most about this book was the robust section on insider vs. outsider status.  We’ve almost all been told at this point that we are operating with biases.  Daniel Kahneman describes the reason behind biases in great detail in Thinking, Fast and Slow.  We rely heavily on System 1 to get through the day, using it to go into auto-pilot on the drive to work and make snap judgments.  While this system was very helpful in the Savannah when we had to assess a situation for danger quickly, this is also the system that gets us into trouble when it comes to assessing people.  Many of us were raised in cultures that taught us about the people around us, either to be afraid of those who are different than us or that a particular group of people in general is better or worse than some other group.  Kaplan and Donovan do a great job of illustrating why these unconscious biases are so important to recognize in the workplace and how we can over come them.  The really fascinating part about insider and outsider status is that the more insider status you have as part of the group that is in power, e.g. race, gender, height, handedness, etc., the harder it is for you to see the existence of bias or the need for change.  If you have not been faced with blatant outsider status when trying to conform to society, it’s easy for you to assume the world is a fair place and every corporate environment is a true meritocracy.

This passage was especially powerful for me because it helped me articulate why I am such a strong advocate for equal rights for all, even when I don’t belong to a particular group.  I have been very active advocating for same sex marriage equality, even though I am heterosexual.  While I like to think I’m simply a good person and recognize the injustice of denying rights to some but not all people, I saw more clearly after reading this book that I have also lived the life of an outsider.  As a left-handed person, which may seem trivial compared the injustices faced by other outside groups, I have to consciously figure out how to navigate a world that is predominantly right-handed.  No, I’m not comparing this experience to that of those who are persecuted for race, religion, or some other reason.  I am simply saying that this trait has made it possible for me to understand and empathize with the plight of the outsider.  As a woman in a male-dominated field, I also face outsider status.  While strides have certainly been made and gender equality is a hot topic in corporate cultures everywhere, we are still not there.  The issue I face most often is backlash for not adhering to gender stereotypes with regard to behavior.  I’ve been called aggressive, intimidating, and ambitious, and I recognize the only reason these are viewed in a negative light at all is because I am a woman.  These outsider statuses have opened my eyes to the world we live in, where the majority creates the world it wants, often with little regard to those who don’t fit in.  My hope is that I also have enough insider status to do something about it.

Overall, this book was a fascinating read to understanding why we still face challenges related to diversity and inclusion, and what we can do about it.  If you are someone who considers themselves to be an outsider, I’d recommend this book so you may better understand how we’ve ended up where we are and how to make changes.  If you are someone who enjoys many privileges of insider status, e.g. white, male, heterosexual in a corporate environment, I especially urge you to read this book so you understand why diversity and inclusion efforts are so much more than an HR checkbox.