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Diversity vs Inclusion in the Workplace: What’s the Difference?

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Published on: 11/29/2020
Last Updated: 05/26/2023
6 minute read

Many companies boast about their workplace diversity. But just because a workforce is diverse, doesn’t mean that the workplace itself is inclusive. The two terms are often used interchangeably since a truly supportive workplace requires both, but in reality, there is a key difference between diversity and inclusion.

Making the distinction between the two is an important part of cultivating a safe, inviting, and well-rounded work environment. Keep reading to learn about how diversity and inclusion differ, how they each affect the workplace, company culture, and along with employee engagement, and why it's useful to have both.

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Inclusion vs Diversity

What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion? Having a firm grasp on the concept of diversity is important before you can understand inclusivity, as in, you need to start with diversity to be inclusive in the first place.

In the words of Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer, “If diversity is the ‘what,’ inclusion is the ‘how.’”

Understanding Diversity

As the “what” of holistic integration, diversity is a term used to describe everyone’s unique qualities and characteristics as they come together to define one whole person. Having diversity in the workplace means that you have people of different races, ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, ages, and more1.

Four Types of Diversity

There are many different types of diversity, but when looking to understand workplace diversity, it is oftentimes broken into four types, each having their own subsets of specific characteristics.

Here is a brief explanation of the four types of diversity:

  1. Internal – These are the characteristics a person was born with and cannot change, like race, ethnicity, sex assigned at birth, gender identity, physical ability, and mental ability.
  2. External – External factors are the characteristics a person is not born with and has the power to change, although they are frequently heavily influenced by surrounding people. Examples include personal interests, education, appearance, citizenship, familial status, relationship status, socioeconomic status, and religious beliefs.
  3. Organizational – These are the distinguishing elements between people within the work environment, like job function, management status, department, seniority, and pay.
  4. Worldview – Another aspect that can change with time, worldview diversity defines the overall way we choose to see the world and the metaphorical lens that colors our experiences. Examples include political affiliation and innate moral compass.

A diverse workforce or work environment on its own doesn't do much other than fill a quota-it isn't until these different voices and viewpoints are truly heard that an organization reaps the benefits that come with inclusivity.

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Defining Inclusivity

Inclusion is how a diverse workforce thrives and comes to life-it's when people of all walks of life, personal interests, diverse perspectives, and different backgrounds work together in the form of a community, and listen to and respect one another.

The main defining quality of an inclusive work environment is creating a safe space for each employee. That means diverse employees can be who they truly are as individuals without fear and don't have to hide parts of themselves or compromise their beliefs to feel like they belong. Workplace inclusion promotes equal opportunity for professional development free of unconscious bias. This is where inclusion strategy and inclusive leadership come into play. 

How to Create an Inclusive Workplace

Inclusion initiatives can be integrated in workforce diversity.  Here are some ways that you can create an inclusive team or inclusive workplace for diverse employees:

  • Establish strict nondiscrimination policies
  • Require sensitivity /unconscious bias training on a regular basis
  • Have diversity in every tier of the workforce
  • Take a nondenominational approach to the holiday season
  • Consider translating events for people who are deaf or multilingual
  • Offer a wide range of foods that align with different religions
  • Look into onsite or emergency childcare
  • Provide adequate healthcare and parental leave
  • Encourage mentoring between employees
  • Consider offering educational opportunities
  • Listen to questions and concerns—and take them seriously

Benefits of an Inclusive Workplace

There is a major difference between diversity and inclusion, and it’s especially evident in the workplace. By establishing a company that is both diverse and inclusive, you can  not only make people feel positively about coming into work every day, but you can also set your company up for greater success through improved team productivity and collaboration.

These are some of the proven benefits of having both a diverse and inclusive workplace:

  • Creativity – Wide-ranging perspectives offer different points of view and a creative approach to problem-solving3.
  • Good reputation – Support of equal opportunities gives your company a good reputation for potential business partners, customers, and clients.
  • Higher likelihood of investment – Venture capitalists are much more likely to invest in a company when they can form a partnership with someone of their same gender, race, or ethnicity, according to studies posted in the Harvard Business Review2.
  • Demand for employment – When employees are happy there’s a lower job turnover rate, which not only saves you money but creates a demand for employment with your company. As potential applicants hear about this, they’ll also find your company more attractive, providing a large, highly qualified applicant pool when it does come time to fill a position.
  • Increased revenue – Higher racial, ethnic, and gender diversity levels directly impact profits and result in companies outperforming their competitors, according to many studies covered by Business Insider3.

Overall, a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture and leadership is more likely to see organizational success than a less inclusive or diverse team. 

Bring Inclusivity to the Workplace

Alliant International University is an award-winning institution offering programs that have been recognized for diversifying higher education. Alliant’s own professor of psychology, Bernardo Ferdman, has written a book entitled, “Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion,” which is a useful tool for establishing a holistic workplace.

Are you looking for an education that’s diverse and inclusive? Look towards Alliant. 


  1. Spark Team, "Diversity And Inclusion What's The Difference How Can We Ensure Both," Spark, June 09, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.…
  2. Paul Gompers and Silpa Kovvali, "Finally, Evidence That Diversity Improves Financial Performance," Harvard Business Review, July 09, 2018. Accessed November 29, 2021.
  3. Lindsay Dodgson and Marguerite Ward, "Here Are the Exact Reasons Why Diverse Companies are More Profitable, According to a Neuroscience and Leadership Expert," Business Insider, February 24, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2021.

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