Beyond Black History Month: Why Communicators Must Embrace Inclusion, Not Just Diversity

By Shirley Engelmeier, CEO, InclusionINC

Diversity has long been the label of the variety of differences we bring to the workplace, including demographics, generational cohorts, socio-economic status and thinking styles. But in 2012 and beyond, it isn’t diversity alone that communications organizations need to focus on, it’s the call to action and business benefits of inclusion. As we reflect on the advantages of workplace diversity during Black history month, we must realize that simply checking a box isn’t good enough. In today’s workforce, the real question is whether communications organizations are doing enough to mobilize the diverse experiences of their diverse workforce to create meaningful engagement, empowerment and ultimately impact on the business?

Today, the traditional command and control management ideology falls on deaf ears—particularly with the emerging generational group called “Millennials” or “Gen Y.” In today’s workplace, smart, talented employees don’t want to be brought into an organization because they are “different.” They want to be hired to make input that will help their companies grow and compete on the global stage. Companies must realize that diversity only for diversity’s sake creates a barrier to its potential value to help the business. Diversity cannot stand alone. But creating an inclusive workplace that encourages collaboration and openness from everyone is a key business strategy most companies are missing—including those in the communications industry.

In communications industries, there are several key characteristics that must run rampant to ensure a company’s survival: creativity, a proliferation of forward-thinking ideas, and technology savvy, to name a few. With the disproportionate amount of Gen Y employees that excel on these skill sets, organizations need to create a culture that allows for everyone’s ideas to come out onto the table. In order for that to happen, the chain of command flattens, workers are given other opportunities in the form of a lattice rather than the traditional ladder and, managers ask opinions of not just the executive team but everyone in the enterprise.

When business leaders create a culture of inclusion, they increase the involvement of their employees in the business processes of their organizations and are much more likely to realize a higher return on investment from the workers they employ.

So this Black history month, which inherently makes most business leaders think about diversity, everyone should be thinking about diversity differently…in a more actionable way, reflecting instead about whether your workplace culture engages workers with unique differences by encouraging them to bring their best ideas to the war room every day.  Try these tactics to build a workplace of inclusion:

  1. Create “Inclusion Circles.” Gather leaders and employees together on a frequent basis, physically or virtually, to address key business issues. Assign an employee within each work group the role of solicitor general to encourage everyone to say what they think about business process changes that will help increase employee satisfaction and business productivity.
  2. Retire Command-and-Control “Ivory Tower Management.” Certain management practices tend to stifle, rather than drive, productivity and innovation. When all decisions are made at the highest levels, for example, lower-level employees might feel like their opinions and ideas are being controlled rather than heard. Creating an environment in which everyone has the freedom and comfort to think and approach problems in their own way can give employees a sense of belonging that will lead to better creativity and engagement across the company.
  3. Recognize that the C-suite doesn’t always have all the best ideas. Every voice is an important voice. Because the workforce is a melting pot of generational cohorts, organizations must acknowledge that the unique perspectives of employees from various generations and backgrounds can add significant value in a knowledge worker environment. For example, those from Generation Y tend to have an entrepreneurial attitude that thrives on collaboration, a skill seen as key to effective business. Create a work culture where employees are asked, “What do you think?” rather than told, “Here’s what to do.” Employees will be more invested in a company that listens to them and values their opinions.
  4. Celebrate the best ideas. Praise the ideas that came from the ranks rather than the rafters. A heartfelt “thank you!” can work wonders for continued engagement and productivity. Employees want to be praised for their good work. Employees want to be praised for their good work. Recognizing everyone for their contributions, no matter where they fall in the hierarchy, is key to making everyone feel like their opinion matters.


Shirley Engelmeier has been an Inclusion and Diversity Strategist and Consultant for more than 18 years. Prior to that, Shirley held senior management and HR positions in global consumer product organizations such as Brown & Williamson and Frito-Lay where she pioneered Diversity and Inclusion initiatives that had a major impact on improving employee engagement, retention and productivity. Shirley has consulted with Fortune 1000 companies as well as emerging enterprises on Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives across a broad range of industries, including SuperValu, ESPN, Denny’s/Advantica, Knight Ridder, R.R. Donnelley, TRW, Prudential, The Charlotte Observer, First Union and Nations Bank (Bank of America), COX Communication, BP Pipelines and others.



  1. SF on March 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Diversity and inclusion – a perfect pair. Thank you for your very relevant and insightful article!

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