Editor’s note: the following article was originally posted June 4, 2009.

Diversity is such a buzzword in today’s corporate world.

Between raving about their diversity strategy, diversity initiatives or diversity recruiting, “diversity” seems to be the trend among the best companies in the world.  The unfortunate trend that has become overly apparent to me is that diversity has really just become a numbers game.  Organizations are spending their resources trying to diversify their candidate pool, hire more diverse candidates, and do more in the underserved communities.  This work is GREAT and I would not want to spend this time discrediting the great work that organizations have done in the diversity field however I want to spend a few minutes around the “what’s next?” question.

My question is:  what comes after “diversity”?

I encourage readers to go back to elementary school and recall when your teacher taught you about nouns and verbs.  As I recall, nouns are words that name persons, places, things or ideas.  A verb is a word that usually denotes an action, it’s a doing word.  So what does this have to do with diversity?  I would argue that in order for an organization to be effective with their diversity initiatives, diversity has to become a verb.  I would like to introduce the concept of inclusion.  In my words, inclusion is about our individual behaviors that foster respect, appreciation and a value of all persons.

Often times, organizations spend an immense amount of resources attempting to become more ‘diverse’ and then cannot understand why their initiatives tend to fizzle out.  Many organizations call this the “revolving door” syndrome.  Organizations are able to hire diverse candidates but cannot retain them for a substantial amount of time. I believe that in many cases it is because the culture of the organization cannot sustain these diversity initiatives.  The organizational culture is not inclusive.

Often times, organizations spend much of their time on the organizational level of system and do not focus on the individual or group levels of system.  As an organization, it is important that your marketing represents a global workforce, that your website speaks to the diversity initiatives, that your vendors are diverse, and that your organization participates in diversity surveys and conferences.  However what happens when an individual starts to actually work in the organization?  Does the manager and team support inclusion?  Does the individual feel that they can be their authentic self regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. and bring their ‘whole’ self to the workplace?  It is only when organizations can foster an inclusive work environment that they will begin to really maximize an individual’s optimal performance.

Think about it.  You do your best and you are at your best when you feel that your ideas are valued, appreciated and respected.  You feel confident to present innovative ideas, solutions and services when you know that they are welcomed and acknowledged.  You feel empowered to go to the next level in your career when your manager and team members support you.

So my question to you is what stops us from getting to place where we can foster inclusive work environments?

Inclusion is respecting, appreciating and valuing others.  Regardless of your beliefs, culture, socioeconomic status, educational background, city in which you grew up in, I respect you.  I respect you because at the end of the day, we are not so different after all.  At the end of the day, I still work with you.  At the end of the day, we are here because we care about the mission of the organization or because we want a better future for our children.  Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, we have something in common and if I respect that part of myself, then I must respect, appreciate and value you too.