Diversity vs. Inclusion

Why it’s important to understand the difference
By Eva Cruz Peña

According to social justice facilitator Meg Bolger, diversity is the presence of differences in a given setting, and diversity exists in relationship to others. These differences often fall into social categories such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, nationality and citizenship, veteran and parental status, body size, ability, age and experience. Diversity is experienced via the five senses and pertains to the quantity of differences.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is about different identities feeling valued, welcomed and able to participate fully within a given setting. Inclusion is experienced with feelings, and it pertains to the quality of experiencing being different.
Vernā Myers, inclusion strategist and cultural change catalyst, explains that diversity is “being asked ‘to the dance’” whereas inclusion is “being asked ‘to dance.’”

The distinction matters because diversity does not equal inclusion. Spaces might look diverse (presence of difference), but they might not be inclusive (make people feel valued and welcomed). Just because someone is present in a setting does not mean the person feels invited to share in the experience as a valued equal.


In March 2018, my daughters and I experienced a traumatic event secondary to an act of discrimination and racial profiling. As we processed the experience, my goal was to heal the trauma and transmute the pain. I sought to find the message in the mess because I knew the wisdom arising from it would be powerful enough to create positive change in the world. For months, I intentionally looked for clues that would point me toward that message. It wasn’t until October of that year that the message revealed itself.

I was in a call with my coach when she asked me a question: “What social change would you like to see in the world?” In that moment, and without hesitating, I shared how I longed to see black, brown, Indigenous women of color (BBIWOC) represented and included in the entrepreneurial space.

Ever since I moved from Puerto Rico to the U.S., I experienced the lack of representation of BBIWOC in almost every space I was part of. From work to academia to religious institutions, the presence of these women was missing. Over and over, I found myself being one of few, if not the only woman of color in these spaces. The feeling of being invisible—of not belonging—was excruciating. This aching pain, now woven into the tapestry of my story, begged me to speak up and bring awareness to this issue. 

For years, I used my voice to advocate for myself and the women I represented. But 18 years later, I felt my soul was requiring me to use not only my voice, but my gifts of leading, teaching, guiding, creating safe spaces for people to heal and grow and embodying loving kindness to usher in a new paradigm to reflect the beautiful diversity of the world we live in.

That day, when my coach asked me the question, I knew the message in the mess was to lead a movement that sought to heal, reconcile and create spaces for the missing voices to be heard, seen and known. And I knew I was being called to do so the only way my soul knows how to go about the hard things—with love, truth and compassion.


As I began to envision how to create spaces for the missing voices, I realized that not only was there little awareness of the absence of representation, there was a lack of understanding of what the terms “diversity,” “inclusion” and “equality” meant. In order to bring awareness to both the issue and the importance of understanding the terms, I created a masterclass. 

Sacred Inclusion was born out of the desire to guide a conversation, grounded in love and compassion, that addressed the evident need for inclusion and representation of BBIWOC in the entrepreneurial space. It also sought to bring about understanding of diversity and inclusion and why it matters that the difference between these terms is understood. 


Awareness is the first step in the conversation about inclusion and diversity. Once it’s raised and there’s an understanding of the terms and their significance, the women in Sacred Inclusion are presented with three concepts and a challenge: 

Willingness—The quality or state of being prepared to do something. “Are you willing to do something about the lack of representation and inclusion of BBIWOC in your circles?”

Commitment—Giving your time and effort to something you believe in. “Are you committed to giving your time, energy and resources to ensure your circles are diverse and inclusive?”

Personal responsibility—The understanding that you choose your actions, therefore you’re responsible to own and work through the consequences. “Are you taking responsibility for your commitment in bridging the gap that keeps BBIWOC from being invited in, valued and leveraged in your circles?”

The women have a safe space to reflect on these questions and to ask their own. Then they have the choice to continue doing the work and joining me in creating a new paradigm for all.


Creating this new paradigm—one that is beautifully diverse like the world we live in—comes at a cost. Those who are intentional about ensuring their circles are comprised of diverse people who feel valued and welcomed understand that it will cost time, energy and money. They’re here for it, attentive and invested in creating a better equitable future. They’re the ones inviting people to the dance, inviting people to dance and ensuring everyone has access and a seat on the party planning committee.