Author: Rita Nketiah

Lonely woman

by: Rachel Dick, Research and Writing Associate


As a White female living in the United States, the range of “inclusivity” I see varies greatly. As I navigate my personal and social life in my role as a graduate student, and my position as an instructor and staff member at a university, sometimes I feel optimistic about the supportive environment that is being cultivated for all within academic spaces. Simultaneously, the stark difference between what I have access to with my white privilege in relation to others who face racial oppression is discouraging. All of this has me asking how “inclusion” is actualized in practice.



Inclusion is a concept that we hear about more often now within higher education and the business sectors in the United States. That being said, there is still more work needed in thinking about what inclusion really means within these contexts and in relation to our increasingly globalized world and the changing social realities we are confronted by today.


In the U.S., people were striving towards something called “inclusion” in the 1950’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement. Activists fought for people of color to enter, belong in, and access public spaces. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, inclusion came into use as a concept. Inclusion meant eliminating barriers for those with dis/abilities in navigating public spaces like classrooms. “Inclusion” was not coined as a term however until the 1980’s when it was formally used in special education policies.1



As institutions have begun recognizing and valuing diversity, inclusion has also started to appear as a goal. Simultaneously however due to the lack of analysis and assessment about what is meant by inclusion, “diversity” and “inclusion” are often conflated into one concept. While the two are related, they serve a different purpose. In order to truly practice inclusion, we must be able to differentiate it from diversity.


At the most basic definitional level, inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.2 In the world of Diversity and Inclusion work, or D&I as it is often called, inclusion has come to generally mean welcoming, respecting, and valuing individuals from all backgrounds and identities in workplaces.


Andrés Tapia says that, “Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.” Inclusion is what needs to happen once we have recognized our diversity, so that our environments can become truly supportive spaces for everyone.



“You can’t have inclusion without diversity, but you can have diversity without inclusion.”This is what we find happening in the workplace. There is now an emphasis on striving for a diverse workforce, but often we stop there.



Nowadays, it is safe to say that many people are starting to understand the value of having a diverse workforce. However this has not translated into an inclusive workforce.For example,  employees may feel uncomfortable in their workplace, feel like their co-workers and supervisors do not understand their specific needs and concerns, and feel like the company or organization does not value them as a unique individual. When this is the case (as studies such as the Human Rights Campaign’s report on “The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion” have shown5), employees report lower levels of job satisfaction, making them more likely to leave, and resulting in lower levels of employee loyalty, decreased productivity, and higher turnover rates.  In order to avoid this, and create the diverse and supportive workplaces we aim for, we must be sure we are truly practicing inclusion.


Here are two concrete ways we can work towards inclusive work spaces:

Make sure everyone’s voice is not only represented in decision-making, but also acknowledged and valued:

For instance, genuinely welcome ideas about how to transform and develop programs or policies based on the feedback that you receive from individuals with different identities and positions within the organization.

Know when to step back and allow others to speak and have authority within a conversation:

For example, when considering partnering or collaborating with an organization on issues specific to people of color, consult with them within your own organization on ways to approach this partnership or collaboration in the most respectful, useful, and productive way.


To be inclusive is a continuous act. Inclusion is not something that you can simply say you are. It is not something that can be fulfilled just by reaching a quota. At Relational, we know that being inclusive is an active choice. We must continuously work to create spaces that are truly welcoming, respecting, and valuing of all individuals.


1 “Inclusive Education.” (2014). New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education. Retrieved from
2 “Inclusion.” Google. Retrieved from
3 Frierson, W. (2015). “Lack of focus on inclusion leads to retention problems in the workplace.” College Recruiter. Retrieved from
4 Nketiah, R. (2016). “What is Diversity?.” Relational. Retrieved from
5 “The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion.” (2014). Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Retrieved from