The Illusion of Inclusion
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There has been a shift in the diversity industry, especially in the last five years, in terms of recognizing that organizations can be diverse, but not necessarily inclusive.   Many organizations recognize that  while they have been successful at recruiting those from diverse backgrounds, they struggle to retain them.  They recognize that employee engagement and retention are linked to having an “inclusive culture,” which is necessary to achieve breakthrough innovation and high performance.  Today, many organizations are using company-wide surveys as a way to measure inclusion.  However, these surveys usually consist of “mindset questions” about how employees think and feel.  At best, this type of data can be used to “infer” to some extent how inclusive the culture is.


The reality is that inclusion can’t be effectively measured on an organization-wide basis.  Real inclusion occurs at the team level because that is the context in which work occurs and where it counts the most.   How we “think and feel” influences how we behave.  Thus, if we want to measure inclusion, we need to examine how team members are communicating and interacting with one another every day at work, i.e., we need to directly measure behavior.


The “Illusion of Inclusion” was a term coined by Patricia Pope in 1990 to describe a new phenomenon that she was seeing in some organizations.  Her initial research focused on whether there were differences in how women and people from different racial/ethnic backgrounds who had achieved director-level or higher positions in their organizations viewed “inclusion” compared to white males.  Did they receive the same “signals of inclusion” and did they interpret them in the same way?  Or, was there a tendency to misinterpret their title and position as meaning that they were in the “inner circle of power and influence in their organizations?”  


In graduate school, she continued her research on the “Illusion of Inclusion.”  The outcome was an innovative tool, The Team Interaction Profile™ (TIP) that objectively measures inclusion, and has been used with over 100 teams, including executive teams, departments, research teams, an Employee Resource Group, and even a professional sports team, all with fascinating results!


Since then, she has broadened the concept of the “Illusion of Inclusion” recognizing that there is a general tendency to confuse hiring people with proactively including them.

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