Why inclusion is so hard for business

We know inclusivity as a term used to describe hiring or staffing practices, but it’s more than that. Inclusivity is an aspect of the value system that underscores all of the decisions a company makes. Many companies struggle with the idea of inclusivity because their current value system is built on exclusivity. Fortunately, companies don’t have to choose between exclusivity or inclusivity. Instead, companies can consciously choose when exclusive practices work for them and when it is more important to use inclusive practices.

Inclusion is hard because it runs counter to the foundation of how business usually works. Companies that focus on a single bottom line, profit, will have the hardest time adding inclusivity to the workflow. Profit (or efficiency) is most easily attained by using exclusivity strategies. Inclusion is hard for businesses because it requires some businesses to dramatically change how they do business.

Many businesses have a unique value proposition and they use this to differentiate themselves from the competition. Differentiation is a form of exclusion. Once a company knows their value to the customer, they turn that value into a brand. A brand, for a company, is like a reputation is for a person – it’s what people think about you or say about you. Successful businesses stay true to their brand reputation. This means that they avoid doing things that aren’t true to their brand. This is an exclusivity mindset.

Businesses focus on the people, goals, and activities that fit their brand and they exclude from focus the people, goals, and activities that run counter to the brand. Businesses value exclusivity because exclusivity creates profits and efficiencies in various ways.

Here’s one example of how companies use exclusivity to be profitable. Marketing, sales, and product development teams rely on customer personas as a standard way of making sure that they focus their energy on the customer-product fit. A customer persona is a highly detailed description of an individual person who symbolizes an entire population of customers. This strategy of focusing all marketing, sales, and design energy on one person and excluding focus on literally everyone else is widely accepted as a profitable business strategy and is considered standard.

Exclusivity is proven to be profitable. That’s why businesses do it. So, for a business to decide to value inclusivity, it has to decide to value something in addition to profit (or efficiency). Some companies have already defined a triple bottom line that adds profits to other concerns like the environment and social impact. This is often described as profit, planet, people. A triple bottom line company will have a much easier time adding inclusivity to the overall business strategy.

A purely exclusivity-focused company will have its own set of challenges. It will be designed entirely for profits and not on sustainability, innovation, longevity, or other qualities that are often cited as desirable in business. The reality is that profits and efficiency do drive many business models. Businesses that leverage exclusivity-based business models will have a much harder time making sense of inclusivity because inclusivity runs counter to the way that their business is done.