Diversity and Inclusion Are Not the Same Thing

So what’s the difference between the two and why does it matter?

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Political scientist Robert Putnam believed that a healthy community requires both “bonding capital” within groups (diversity) and “bridging capital” between groups (inclusion). Without inclusion, diversity programs with the best of intentions can result in silos. Turns out bonding capital is good on paper, but bridging capital is crucial for true advancement.

Here’s why.

In 1970, Xerox launched the first Employee Resource Group (ERG), which is now called the National Black Employees Association. Groundbreaking at the time, the idea was adopted by companies around the world to help “out-groups” feel more engaged in organizations that were almost entirely dominated by straight white men. The idea was that group members could become more confident, help each other, more easily raise concerns, and most importantly, attain levels of leadership that previously seemed out of reach.


From Women’s Councils to LGBT Groups, most Fortune 500 companies now have a dedicated diversity and inclusion officer to help ERGS like these thrive. ERGs have accomplished a lot and are loved by many of their members, but they fell far short of diversifying leadership in the way that they were intended to. For example, though women make up more than 50% of the workforce, only 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and most of those female CEOs were selected, groomed and appointed by male leaders -- not members of their ERG.

After nearly 50 years of “diversity and inclusion” initiatives, many companies, like Deloitte, are realizing that emphasizing diversity at the expense of inclusion is detrimental to their goals.

To be clear, we are not claiming ERGs are bad, only that they’re insufficient. Without inclusivity, diversity can only do so much for the health of a company’s internal culture.

If you’re interested in kick-starting your company’s inclusivity, check out 7 Ways to Create a More Inclusive Culture, subscribe to our newsletter, or schedule a time to talk with us.

Rumblesum is a mobile platform that builds more inclusive cultures through competitions, photo-sharing, games, in-person activities, and interest-group management.

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