Seven Stages of Inclusion (7SI) Maturity Model

Pamela A. McElvane, MBA, MA, MPCC
CEO & Publisher,
Diversity MBA

Deborah P. Ashton, PhD
BHD, CDM / President,
Planet Perspective

The Overview

Diversity MBAs (DMBA) Inclusive Leadership Index (ILI) is designed to capture specific data as it relates to talent management strategies, practices, methods, processes, and how it integrates with diversity & inclusion strategies. This data is the foundation for developing the Seven Stages of Inclusion (7SI) for a world-class culturally inclusive organization. The ILI data, change management theory, the Six Pillars of Diversity & Inclusion (Ashton, 2011) and the authors’ combined diversity, equity and inclusion experience of approximately 50 years are the basis for the Seven Stages of Inclusion Maturity Model. The 7SI Maturity Model provides the elements for each stage and a roadmap from the current state to each successive desired future state.

The Purpose of the Inclusive Leadership Index is to provide the marketplace with two assets; Benchmarking and Branding. To protect integrity of the research there is no fee to participate.

Methodology: What We Measure? (McElvane, 2006-2018)

  • The ILI has evolved to produce more than 30,000 insights that provides practical best practice examples on what is required of organizations to create sustainable environments.
  • Data has been captured on more than 50 industries, 800 unique companies with an average size of 35,000 employees for multi-nationals and 5,000 employees for Regional companies.
  • The Index establishes metrics for both leading practices that are innovative and best practices with repeatable proven results. The categories:

Diversity MBA’s ILI has intentionally gathered comprehensive data for more than a decade, on industry trends in talent management and diversity and inclusion.

Understanding diversity trends and metrics that support strategic positioning and decision making allows key influencers to leverage competitive advantages across sectors. Today, inclusion as part of the overall business strategy is imperative for several reasons: 1) retention, 2) competitive advantage; and 3) attracting top talent.

Commitment to diversity and inclusion requires a robust strategy that is ever evolving. Organizational data that provides predictive analytics and benchmarking is necessary, but the data must do more than showcase results; it must help organizations identify gaps to make impactful decisions to drive change.

The marketplace is challenged with the next phase of integrating diversity and inclusion as a sustainable part of the business strategy. Organizations are finding it difficult to create inclusive platforms simultaneously in all parts of the company. Hence the need to develop a model that supports an evolving strategy.

What is the 7SI?

In 2015, after eight years of collecting insights from Fortune 500 companies and from large regional organizations, McElvane identified seven stages that organizations move through to create a world-class culturally inclusive organization.

Her research team identified every year for over a decade what are the key initiatives organizations are resourcing to move their business agenda. Depending where the company was in their diversity and inclusion journey, she captured and defined the stage.

As companies described and shared the programs, initiatives and/or activities they engaged employees with the intent to activate various levels of the stages described below. While we recognize that different industries will identify with varied order of execution of the seven stages, the majority of companies from our research flow through the group phases pretty consistently.

The seven stages are:

  1. Indifference
  2. Incentive
  3. Information
  4. Indebtedness
  5. Initiatives
  6. Influence
  7. Integration

Seven Stages of Inclusion (7SI) Grouped in Phases

It is important to understand how the stages are defined so that leaders can recognize which phase they are in as well as identify any potential organizational gaps. We also offer data from the ILI to support the findings.

Indifference is a culture where there is a typically homogeneous and low diverse representation among its workforce. There is not a formulated business reason that is perceived as important for the culture and/or representation to change. We find indifference most prevalent in legal, manufacturing, insurance, investment banking and real estate industries. Based on the ILI only 15 percent of companies have fully diverse “C-Suites”.

Incentive comes with many aspects as to why it is needed. Recognition in the form of compensation, awards, and reputation are the most common forms of incentives that organizations offer when trying to change the behavior of the culture. Brand erosion and antipathy among employees are the drivers of these type of programs. While 90 percent of companies offer some type of incentive, 75 percent of companies are offering some type of noncompensated incentive.

Information is one of the most progressive stages companies can move into primarily because the leadership of the companies are seeing positive return of customer engagement and employee awareness. Often times this stage leverages affinity groups to minimize potential liability. In fact, 86 percent of companies in the ILI have some type of resource group and/or network.

Indebtedness means something more than feeling that you owe something. For our purposes, companies have moved through key stages of organizational awareness that has demonstrated impact on the bottom line. Diversity leaders have been identified with some level of budget resources that range from 5-20 percent of total human resource budget. Resources also may depend on size of company and consumer influence.

Initiatives is where engagement and activation are heavily blended into the execution of the strategy. Eightyeight percent (88%) of mature companies have multiple concurrent initiatives that involve employees in both formal and informal programs. Companies are invested in the long-term sustainability of both the well-being of their employees as well as the marketplace impact of their brand.

Influence is simply defined as the ultimate leadership power base converged for the purpose of ensuring the integration of inclusion and diversity in the workforce, among stakeholders and consumers. CEO, Board and Senior leadership are all champions of the integration of the diversity and inclusion strategy into the business. More than 90 percent of CEOs leverage social and community engagement to create cultural trust.

Integration is defined as a fully organized systemic platform where all strategic pillars of a world class organization converges. (Ashton, 2011) Talent management, diversity & inclusion and enterprise business strategies are aligned with accountability that drives inclusive culture and continuous learning. Companies acknowledge this stage is agile and flexible to always consider the dynamic changes in the workforce population, the need to ignite innovation and the evolving culture to become more and more inclusive.

Change Management

The 7SI acts as a guide to provide information regarding the transformation from the current stage to the integrated inclusive culture. Whether using the minimalist Lewin’s Three Stages of Change Management Model (Mulder, Lewin’s Change Model, 2012) or Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model (Mulder, Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, 2012), by definition, there is transformation between the current state and the desired future state.

Essentially, there has to be a burning platform that triggers the need to change. Lewin’s model is Stage 1- Unfreeze (Preparing for the desired change); Stage 2 – Change (Implementing the desired change); and Stage 3 –Refreeze (Solidifying the desired change). Lewin’s focus on the need for transparent communication with employees during the transition or change stage as the key to buy-in and transition to the third stage. (Mulder, Lewin’s Change Model, 2012).

The first step of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model begins with creating a sense of urgency, the burning platform, and ends with anchoring the changes (Mulder, Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, 2012), similar to solidifying the new or refreezing. Kotter’s model is: 1- Create a sense of urgency; 2- Create a guiding coalition; 3- Create a vision for change; 4-Communicate the vision; 5-Remove obstacles; 6- Create short-term wins; 7- Consolidate improvements and 8- Anchor the changes.(Mulder, Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, 2012)

We would argue that Kotter’s 8 steps are not stages; but are, in fact, steps that must be taken at every stage to progress effectively with a solid foundation to the next stage. Like Deloitte’s Model, we would agree that stages may be separated into distinct categories, Bersin by Deloitte has a transition separating their four stages into mandate and movement. (Bourke & Dillon, 2018) Our data generated seven distinct stages and three distinct phases. Essentially, our phases are: the novice, which focus is acquiring rewards and avoiding disciplinary action; the intermediate, which focus is gathering data and becoming aware of the positive impact of inclusion on the bottom line; and the mature, which focus is complete integration and a consistency of inclusion across the entire organization, i.e., a world class culturally inclusive organization.

The 7SI differs from some of the existing diversity and inclusion models, (Tapia & Kirtzman, 2019; Bourke & Dillon, 2018) in that the 7SI has an Incentive stage, which is Kotter’s sense of urgency and Lewin’s Stage 1- Unfreeze. The Incentive stage is the second stage in the 7SI because the 7SI acknowledges that before the platform catches fire, organizations may be sitting squarely at Indifference. Korn Ferry 5 stage diversity & inclusion maturity research emphasizes the unsteadiness that can occur when there are significant gaps at lower stages. The organization may find that rather than a stretch it has overreached—leaving it in a vulnerable position. (Tapia & Kirtzman, 2019) An example of an overreach, is when Lowe’s in 2011 first sponsored the “All-American Muslim,” a reality TV show, which would be at the fifth stage of Korn Ferry’s model— Market & Sales Strategy Integration. Lowe’s pulled the ad because of backlash from the right and then received greater backlash from the left for pulling the ad. (LI, 2011)

However, we would argue that the instability had more to do with diversity and inclusion being siloed by function. The Korn Ferry Model has Talent as one stage, Operation as another and Marketing and Sales as yet another. The 7SI are not siloed by function, from the very beginning the organization is approached as an ecosystem. The 7SI focus is on change for an integrated sustainable organization. The 7SI is supported by The Six Pillars of Diversity & Inclusion ™ Strategy (Six Pillars). (Ashton, 2011)

Using the company’s values as a foundation, the Six Pillars buttress the characteristics of a world class organization by adapting to regional/local governmental regulations and cultural milieus to improve the likelihood of success in a global and diverse market. The Six Pillars act as an ecosystem. (Ashton, 2011)

The Six Pillars of Diversity & Inclusion ™ Strategy

WCO Characteristics(Luthans, 1994)

  1. Customer-Based Focus
  2. Continuous Improvement
  3. Egalitarian Climate
  4. Creative Human Resource Management (HRM)
  5. Flexible or ‘Virtual’ Organization
  6. Technological Support

Six Pillars of Diversity & Inclusion*

  1. Workforce
  2. Marketing
  3. Sales
  4. Community Involvement
  5. Product Planning
  6. Supplier

The strategy respects the impact of one pillar on another to reinforce an inclusive culture for all stakeholders— customers, employees, community, shareholders, etc. The Six Pillars adhere to Porter’s belief that strategy is “activities that fit together and reinforce each other”— “strategy is about combining activities”– and has “strategic continuity with continual improvement in realizing the strategy.” (Porter, 1996) Essentially, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, so the organization can act as an effective ecosystem.

With the Six Pillars, diversity and inclusion are leveraged to better understand the needs of the customer and employee to grow the business. The strategy is leveraged to advance smoothly through the 7SI.

According to Peter Drucker, the purpose of strategy was [is] to enable an organization to achieve its desired results in an unpredictable environment…his first step in developing strategy involved analyzing a company and the company’s marketplace to identify “certainties.” (Cohen, 2018)

The certainties can be better identified when there is cooperation across the organization rather than silos that hinder communication. For example, while as the Chief Diversity Officer at Novant Health, Ashton partnered across the organization to implement the Six Pillars. Currently, Novant Health implements the Six Pillars as their Diversity and Inclusion Action Committees that allows functional areas to better meet the needs of the patient, the community and the employees by readily sharing vital data and leveraging diversity and inclusion to obtain the business objective of quality care. Fundamentally, representation, workplace inclusion and accountability are not separate silos; they are intertwined and impact one another.

Ultimately, the Six Pillars is a strategy that is aware that, to quote Drucker, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Strategy needs to be flexible and agile enough to meet the changing dimensions of business.

Strategy requires frequent and constant review, and from time to time needs to be adjusted to reflect what is really going on in the workplace. It should be simple and easily understood. And equally important, a good strategy should be able to clearly compliment the larger objective–the essence of flexibility. (Porter, 1996)

Seven Stages of Inclusion Maturity Model

The Seven Stages of Inclusion Maturity Model is designed so an organization may map its stage for the entire organization, by regions, by business or by facility. The mapping allows organizations to develop customized solutions based on their needs, understanding that inclusion may not be consistent across the organization, just like a highway may not be smooth riding from coast to coast.

The mapping allows an organization to see the gaps, to determine where special attention is needed and where there are best practices to emulate.

Seven Stages of Inclusion Maturity Model
How does your organization map?




We invite leaders and teams to map their functions and their organization, by region, by facility, or their business enterprise. The intent is for readers to gain insights in their strengths and need for development in the D&I areas. The mapping activity will also help align the D&I and business objectives to ensure continuity.


The Seven Stages of Inclusion (7SI) acts as a guide to provide information about the current stage and the distance to an integrated inclusive culture. It is recommended that organizations realistically map their current stage, so not to overreach and falter; but realistically, stretch to reach the next stage or phase. The Six Pillars provide the strategy to become a world class culturally inclusive organization. And the 7SI Maturity Model provides a step by step map to develop tactics that support the strategy to become a world class inclusive culture.


Ashton, D. (2011, Spring). What Makes A World Class Organization? Diversity MBA, pp. 46-48.

Bourke, J., & Dillon, B. (2018, January). The Diversity And Inclusion Revolution. Deloitte Review, p. 93.

Cohen, W. (2018, October 26). Drucker’s 10 Principles For Developing a Business Strategy. Retrieved from Corporate Learning Network:

LI, S. (2011, December 13). Lowe’s faces backlash over pulling ads from ‘All-American Muslim’. Retrieved from LOS ANGELES TIMES:

Luthans, F. e. (1994, Winter). New Paradigm Organizations: From Total Quality to Learning to World-Class. Organizational Dynamics.

McElvane, P. (2006-2018). Inclusive Leadership Index – DMBA Benchmarking. Diversity MBA Magazine.

Mulder, P. (2012). Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model. Retrieved from ToolsHero:

Mulder, P. (2012). Lewin’s Change Model. Retrieved from ToolsHero:
Porter, M. (1996, November–December). What is strategy? Harvard Business Review, pp. 61-78.

Tapia, A., & Kirtzman, F. (2019). Five classic (and overlooked) D&I mistakes. Retrieved from Korn Ferry: