The Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion

A 2013 research initiative undertaken by DeLoitte examined the tendency of workers to engage in “covering” behavior, meaning that these individuals would subvert their natural inclinations and behaviors at work to avoid being associated with stereotypes or associated stigmas assigned to their membership in a particular group (e.g., race, gender, political party).

According to the survey, a large portion of employees engaged in some manner of covering behavior, including:

  • 83 percent of LGBT employees
  • 79 percent of black employees
  • 66 percent of female employees
  • 63 percent of Hispanic employees.

Even 45 percent of straight white males reported engaging in covering behavior while on the clock. These efforts could manifest in a number of ways, such as changing one’s appearance, avoiding topics of conversation related to their group, or actively avoiding other group members to refrain from being thought of as a “clique.” One respondent even reported leaving his cane at home and enduring constant pain to avoid being labeled as disabled.

While these findings are obviously concerning, they also provide us with a clear illustration on the difference between successful diversity and inclusion.

Who vs. How

An effective diversity program will bring a broad range of voices and experiences to your campus, pulling in students from various races, genders, ages, ethnicities, socio-economic groups, religions, political parties, and sexual orientations. And while a healthy diversity program can prove beneficial to your campus — it’s not enough.

An inclusive campus, in turn, means that all of these various students are treated with the same dignity and respect — valuing everyone regardless of their talents, skills, or backgrounds. Each of these individuals feel welcome, valued, respected, and heard.

Put simply, diversity focuses on who is on your campus. And inclusion focuses on how welcome these students and faculty feel there.

How Can Your Campus Move Beyond Diversity to Inclusion?

Make It a Priority

While problems with diversity can routinely be addressed by school policy (particularly hiring and admissions policies), inclusion is an issue of culture. And routinely, issues of culture are best addressed through effective leadership.

Make it clear to your students that your campus values inclusion — from the top down — by establishing clear policies and guidelines that reasonably restrict intolerant and inappropriate behavior on campus. Invest in regular training and seminars that are specifically designed to create a safe and inviting campus for everyone.

At the same time, build up leaders within the student body. In pursuit of this goal, the University of Pennsylvania established its Intercultural Leadership Program (ILP) — a series of workshops and projects that pull together students from various backgrounds to create “an intercultural community of leaders who are ready to take on issues they are passionate about [by] learning more about communities different than their own.”

Explore Unconscious Biases

Everyone has unconscious biases, and the only way to overcome these preconceptions is to identify them and take active measures to account for them. Routinely examine school guidelines and processes to identify any potentially exclusionary policies.

Wherever possible, employ outside tools and unconscious bias training to help faculty and staff better understand their underlying motivations and perspectives, equipping them to recognize and account for how their personal biases can influence interactions with each other and students.

Teach It

Don’t let your efforts for inclusion end with school policy. Incorporate inclusion into every classroom by encouraging teaching staff to treat students as individuals, recognizing their unique identities and offering them the opportunity to have their voices heard in class discussions.

Similarly, have faculty assess the resources and materials that they use in their lessons. Do the texts and topics reflect the diverse nature of your campus in non-stereotypical ways? Are classroom examples or illustrations varied, or do they always reflect the “default” student experience?


While diversity can be measured and quantified, inclusion can prove to be a bit more nebulous. In other words, just because you’ve created a diverse campus does not mean that all of your students feel comfortable being their authentic selves. When your students feel empowered to join in the campus discussion and feel confident that their voices will be heard, you’ll have created a culture that has moved beyond mere diversity.

To learn more about the role that our training services can play in creating an open, inviting, and authentic campus for your students, request a demo today.