Assimilation vs. Inclusion

For most organizations, inclusion remains a vague, abstract idea. This is why it is so easy to find leaders quick to proclaim how inclusive they (and their organization) are, yet cannot explain what that actually means. One of the tools I like to use in making inclusion a more tangible thing comes from a wonderful article: Inclusion and Diversity in Work Groups: A Review and Model for Future Research, originally published in the Journal of Management (Vol. 37 No. 4, July 2011)


The idea behind this model is that as human beings, two of our strongest needs are 1) the need to be unique in some way, and 2) the need to belong. Inclusion happens when a place or a space prioritizes both uniqueness and belongingness, both differences and similarities, and in my experience most organizations that claim to be inclusive are actually much more assimilative in nature. There is also some solid research supporting this perspective, two of my favorite points of reference are Fear of Being Different Stifles Talent from Harvard Business Review and The Corporate Leavers Survey from The Level Playing Field Institute.

This research is also a big part of the reason I have a hard time taking the “war for talent” conversation seriously as we continue to clearly waste much of the talent already on the payroll.

What about where you work? Assimilative or Inclusive? They are not truly opposites, but they are different. Assimilation, which is much, much easier than inclusion, rewards conformity with membership, whereas inclusion rewards individual authenticity and diversity. You also end up with two very different kinds of teams and very different patterns of behavior.┬áIf you were to put them at opposite ends of the spectrum on a scale of 1 – 10, where would you score your organization? And what evidence to you use to support your score?


Be good to each other.

  1. What gets in? - joe gerstandt

    […] last post discussed assimilation vs. inclusion, and it is a bit of a flawed comparison. Assimilation and […]

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    Awesome post.

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