• Aduke Onafowokan

What is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

A quick look at Google Trends shows how conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion have evolved over the years. Whether in relation to gender, ethnicity, race, disability, age, sexuality or social mobility, organisations across the world are bringing diversity and inclusion to the top of their business priorities and decision making.

Although there are several reasons behind the increase in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discourse, an understanding of the meaning underpinning these concepts is often lacking. However, understanding the concepts is crucial to developing robust interventions that drive desired outcomes and move organisations towards more representative and inclusive communities.

So, what exactly is DEI?

Diversity is defined by the CIPD as recognising difference. It is acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision making and what workforce being representative of the organisation’s customers. Diversity can also be simply defined as the presence of human differences - some of which are physical such as gender and race, and some less physical such as neurological differences and sexuality.

In essence, diversity exists everywhere, everyday, in teams and in our communities generally. It is important not to only think about diversity as an aspiration, but as a present reality - it is already here, we are all different and the best of leaders are those who recognise individuality as a vital part of collective identity.

Equity, is a slightly lesser known concept that focuses on fairness and equal outcomes for everyone regardless of their backgrounds and identity. Leading training company General Assembly defines equity as an approach that ensures everyone access to the same opportunities. Equity recognises that advantages and barriers exist, and that, as a result, we all don’t all start from the same place. Equity is a process that begins by acknowledging that unequal starting place and makes a commitment to correct and address the imbalance.

Equity is different from equality, even though they are sometimes used interchangeably. Equality is about sameness, equity is about fairness, equality looks at equal opportunities, equity looks as equal outcomes.

For organisations who truly want to become inclusive and create a culture of belonging, equity is key. An organisation treating all employees the same in the pursuit of equality might not be fair. Just because the door is open does not mean everyone can get in - sometimes people need more, like a ramp, because they are on a wheelchair or pushing a buggy.

It is in understanding the unique experiences people have that leaders give voice to marginalized employees and break the systemic processes that gate some out of decision making.

To include people, you have to first ask - why could not get in, in the first place.

Inclusion refers to “a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging”, which can be “assessed as to the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization” Ella Washington and Camille Patrick, 2018.

Inclusion is thus the intentional and deliberate welcoming, valuing and leveraging of ideas and perspectives of all people regardless of their background and identity.

A simple idea in itself, but in practice can be challenging because the way we are wired as humans is to seek the familiar and trust the familiar - according to Britannica our brain processes 11 million bits of information per second and our conscious mind is at best only aware of 5 of these. Day in, day out we make millions of split second decisions based on what we are familiar with, who we trust and what we believe.

Our natural interest is to form primary and secondary categories, in and out, them and us, this and that. Inclusion seeks to disrupt that and establish one massive team and ideal, including everyone.

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