Managing with Inclusion Competence: Four Characteristics

Keywords: 360° feedback, Inclusion competence, diversity & inclusion, performance appraisal.

Today’s racial and gender identity political rhetoric is divisive and unproductive. Americans can no longer afford leaders who lack inclusion competence. Observing presumably “enlightened” public figures, such as Al Franken and Bill Maher, say and do insensitive things demonstrates that the American elite’s skills lag behind social progress. We expect people like Ann Coulter to say provocative things to sell her books and land speaking engagements.

People like Al Franken surprise us. Witnessing his inability to separate comedic humor from treating women respectfully surprised many of us. Bill Maher comes off as a liberal and wears his dating black women as a badge of honor. He mistook dating women of another race as having become an honorary black person. His flippant use of the word nigger was ill-advised at best and very naive.

In the end, people we look up to disappoint us by saying and doing things that show they have a long way to go to model cultural diversity. They do not have the competence to get beyond stereotyping. The result is that the people with a large following and in the best position to model how to navigate cultural differences competently fall short of our expectations. The sad reality is that the inclusive American is difficult to find.

At least leaders of high-performing modern organizations understand that they cannot afford to suffer from poor competence. Many organizations use performance appraisal to hold managers and supervisors accountable for promoting diversity and inclusion. The appraisal includes assessing a manager’s ability to make culturally different people feel included. It also serves the additional goal of business alignment. The manager’s ability to develop direct reports and foster a belonging work environment for them to thrive is essential for managing an increasingly team-oriented and culturally diverse workplace.

Managers in modern organizations have their compensation directly tied to how well they manage diversity and promote inclusion. While the accountability strategy clarifies that cultural competence is an organizational value, important questions are raised about appraising this type of performance. What is inclusion competence? How do you measure it? Can training increase inclusion competence? This article addresses these questions.

What is inclusion competence?

Inclusion competence promotes a sense of belonging for direct reports across cultural groups. It is comprised of four components (a) Awareness, (b) Attitude, (c) Knowledge, and (d) Skills.[iv] Training leaders to develop and manage with inclusion competence is critical to achieving the best business results.[v] Unfortunately, most diversity training and education programs limit training to raising awareness about cultural differences and attitude change.

The result is that diversity management knowledge and skills lag behind valuing diversity. Managers must learn how to support a sense of inclusion and belonging for staff across cultures. The goal is to foster productivity through inclusive performance appraisal, teamwork, and coaching.

The U.S. Government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found the following management capabilities that support inclusion based on the annual government employee survey:

  • Create a fair environment
  • Create an open environment
  • Create a cooperative environment
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Create an empowering environment

How is Inclusion Competence Assessed?

The Human Capital Inventory (HCI) was developed to this end.[viii] HCI is a 50-item checklist that measures an individual’s cultural competence across the four components with an additional Personal Experience section. The inventory is best used in a 360° feedback format. The Human Resource Office most often administers the inventory to the manager under review (self-appraisal), at least two direct reports, two or more fellow managers, and at least one superior. This set of appraisals provides the manager with a comparison between self-appraisal and the summary of the other’s appraisals.

HCI is comprehensive in that it measures beyond awareness of and attitude towards cultural diversity. In addition, the Personal Experience section and the 360° feedback format control for the tendency to provide favorable self-appraisals to be viewed as liberal-minded.

Can Inclusion Competence Be Taught?

Yes. While a few people come into the world with the gift of making people across cultures feel included, most of us are not so lucky. We must unlearn the prejudice and stereotypes about other cultural groups ingrained in us since birth. Once we get past our biases, we need knowledge and skills to manage differences to create inclusive environments.

Most managing diversity courses focus on compliance and learning about different cultural groups. The OPM research results above indicate that management training needs to focus on fostering inclusion more than understanding what makes each cultural group tick. While knowledge of cultural differences is helpful, developing inclusion skills translates into meeting employees’ workplace needs across cultures.

The Diversity Executive Academy (DELA) Inclusion & Belonging Manager Competence Course is based on decades of cultural diversity management training and new content driven by the OPM data. The training combines encouraging and promoting cultural diversity, fostering healthy staff teamwork, and identifying and removing barriers to inclusion. Managers learn from each other through exercises and opportunities for continuous learning with the group post-training to increase learning transfer.

Managers in modern organizations cannot afford to stumble over cultural differences. This is one reason more and more managers have diversity manager goals as part of their performance evaluation. A thoughtfully conceived manager cultural competence performance appraisal system is a critical talent management component.

If your organization holds managers accountable for meeting cultural diversity goals, look closely at the appraisal system to ensure it adequately assesses inclusion competence. An organization that does not assess inclusion competence must consider carefully if it can reach diversity goals without it. A manager is only accountable for performing at the level of expectation that supervisors and the human resource office have specified. Knowing what inclusion competence is and how it supports a sense of belonging serves as a benchmark for success.

Learn more about the DELA Managing for Cultural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion course.


[i] See Tuen van Dijk ((1984). Prejudice in discourse. Amsterdam: Benjamins) for research on how people talk to avoid appearing prejudiced.
[ii] Diversity Training University International (2008). Cultural Diversity Poll: Republicans Needed Romney; McCain is a No Show (

[i ii] Taking race out of the race, CNN May 21 (2008)
[iv] M. Martin & B. E. Vaughn (2007). Cultural competence: The nuts and bolts of diversity and inclusion. In Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring, pp. 31-38, Publishing Division: San Francisco.     
[v] T. Jones (2007). Talent management perspectives. Talent Management magazine online (     
[vi] D. Williams & K. Wade (2007). What is a Chief Diversity Officer?  In B. Vaughn (Ed.), Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management magazine, Spring, Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 17-21. Publications Division: San Francisco, CA.
[vii] See R. Nishima, Ph.D. (2006). A Framework for Cultural Competency: Measurement and Accountability, The Commonwealth Fund. (
[viii] Billy Vaughn, Ph.D. (2006). Human Capital Inventory. Diversity Training University International Publishing Division: San Francisco. (
[ix] NTL, Introduction to Diversity Professional Certificate Program (
[x] Cornell University, Cornell Certified Diversity Professional (

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