By: Mona Ameli
Our industry’s objective is to provide entrepreneurship opportunities to all through a community-based approach that helps everyone to believe, belong, and become part of a company’s mission and growth. We, more than any other industry, need to be part of the solution to acknowledge, understand, commit and build systematic inclusion to truly become an opportunity for all.
The brutal killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans has brought into greater focus the challenges of systematic racism in America, as reflected in the protests all over the country and even globally. There is a critical need to understand how the often uncomfortable and tough conversations of race and inclusive diversity impact both individual direct selling companies and our industry as a whole. We can play an active and positive role in the new breakthroughs that are now possible.
Some companies sent heartfelt corporate messages of their solidarity with their customers and field through social media and direct communications, including various-sized donations to Black-supporting nonprofits. While these gestures of true compassion and courage have been appreciated, few organizations have really crafted and voiced their company’s strategic and tactical plans and commitment to Black communities as well as the wider underrepresented groups.
To create solutions and actions towards a more inclusive industry, let us address some key definitions around the often misused and misunderstood concepts of diversity and inclusion. While very distinct, their optimal combination within an intentionally created culture and under an authentic inclusive leadership, both at a corporate level and in the field, is the only sustainable solution.
Diversity Cannot Exist Without Inclusion
Too many companies make the assumption that diversity and inclusion are synonymous, or that one automatically implies the other. Diversity and inclusion, often referred to as D&I, are actually two very different concepts. Diversity is defined as the representation of many aspects of human differences.
The two most referenced visible traits are, of course, race and gender. However, diversity includes other traits such as age, ethnic background, and disability, as well as invisible traits such as sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and education, for example. Workplace diversity means having a workplace that is representative of different types of people and backgrounds.
Inclusion refers to the feeling of belonging in an environment that fosters a culture where employees feel valued, respected, accepted as they are, and treated fairly while encouraged and motivated to fully participate and speak up. An inclusive workplace provides the space, processes, tools, and platforms that empower everyone to bring their “full selves” to work and to be fully included and valued—not just some.
An analogy that is often used to distinguish these two concepts is the following: Diversity speaks to who is “on the team,” but inclusion focuses on who is really “in the game,” according to “Diversity doesn’t stick without Inclusion,” a 2017 Harvard Business Review article.
While many companies feel that they have reached increased levels of diversity in their workforce or in their field, they may naively feel that they also have an inclusive culture. There are two negative effects that this misguided (and sometimes dangerous) assumption can have:
First, without inclusion, the key dynamics that initially would attract diverse talents into the organization, as well as inspire and encourage full participation that leads to innovation and business growth, won’t happen. Very often this creates painful sentiments of exclusion and frustration and, in turn, leads to the departure of some of the most valuable assets for the organization.
Just as a reference point, companies with above-average diversity produced a greater proportion of revenue from innovation (45 percent of total) than from companies with below-average diversity (26 percent). This 19 percent innovation-related advantage translated into overall better ﬁnancial performance, according to a January 2020 Forbes article.
The second, and much more difficult and uncomfortable truth about having diversity without inclusion is “tokenism,” which can impact even the most well-intentioned companies. This phenomenon represents situations when employees from the diverse pool of underrepresented communities are hired or promoted into senior leadership positions (or within departments and areas that did not have any diversity). Once there, they realize they may now be on the team—they have attained from a title perspective a position of leadership—but they are not in the game, meaning they are not included in key strategic decision making, can’t express themselves authentically, and/or their role and influence isn’t at the same level as their non-diverse counterparts.
Feeling like an outsider and lacking a sense of psychological safety and comfort due to the absence of an environment that doesn’t foster a true sense of authentic belonging, these highly talented individuals leave the organization—sometimes in an abrupt manner—with extreme disappointment and frustration about having been used as “tokens.” This also can cast a negative image on the company as the relatedness and aspiration of other diverse employees are shattered by seeing the reality of what life at the top can feel like for those who are “different.”
In a nutshell, many companies mistakenly settle for checking the box for diversity without making the significant and genuine commitment to achieving true inclusion. This can change through the shift of both their personal leadership style and the organization’s culture, with the goal of becoming an authentic inclusive leader and creating a truly integrated and systematic inclusive culture across the entire organization. Inclusion is an ongoing process, not a Band-Aid or a quick fix.
The Creation of Sub-Groups
The importance of this distinction and the need for true commitment to have an inclusive culture is even more heightened within the direct selling industry because we deal simultaneously with both internal employees and a field of independent contractors. The backlash of one can create a domino effect on the other. The lack of an inclusive employee culture impacts the relatedness, trust and connectivity to a field. In turn, the field mimics the lack of inclusion by the creation of sub-groups.
Sub-groups are “silo bubbles’’ created by individuals who don’t feel that they belong to the majority and, in order to avoid exclusion as outsiders, create their own like-minded groups within the larger group. This phenomenon leads then to companies catering to them with different tools, products and training than the majority of the field.
With time, these groups, whether they be Latino, Jewish, Black, etc., develop their own sub-cultures, distinct and disconnected from the overall company culture. They do not feel acknowledged, understood, integrated, or validated by either the field leadership or the internal corporate leadership. This is due to the lack of a fully inclusive culture that authentically permeates through both corporate and the field. One test of knowing if the field culture is truly inclusive is to look at the rank advancements and leadership rank achievements of these sub-groups and identify their direct correlation to their representation within the overall field. Do these leaders get to be part of the field/corporate leadership councils and have a true participation and voice?
As an industry, having a diverse field isn’t enough. Creating a culture with inclusive brands and product lines, integrated processes, and holistic materials and training that can provide everyone equal access to success and growth of their business, while expanding the reach of the company, is what truly matters.
As such, we have seen that having diverse and inclusive leadership at the corporate level of organizations helps enormously in achieving this objective more effectively and in a more sustainable manner.
I often ask corporate leaders this key question: Does your current executive leadership reflect your field and/or customer base diversity representation? If the answer is no, then are you truly committed to shifting it in order to create a true and authentic inclusive culture? Your answer could make all the difference.
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