What is Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion?
During the pandemic the general public became more aware of the idea of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), especially with the heightened attention to the systemic racism that exists throughout the United States. Yet, even though the concept has become a hot topic most people only know it as “anti-racism” or other simplified generalizations. These generalizations tend to oversimplify and devalue the complexity of DEI. But if that is the case what exactly is DEI?
Well, DEI as a broad concept is one of the key tenets of governance, which is part of ESG (environment, society, governance). It deals with how a business runs its operations and treats its employees at every level, including the C-Suite.
Diversity is the concept that a company should have employees and individuals from different backgrounds. That means having employees from different ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, socioeconomic status, and life experiences. And this is not just for good PR and brownie points with the media it can have true tangible effects on the success of a business. For example, having individuals from all these different backgrounds can ensure that an advertisement does not offend any specific community. A more recent example of this is when Dove ran an ad for their soap and during this ad they featured a dark skinned woman using said soap then suddenly being replaced by a white woman after the fact. I’m sure you could imagine why that was poorly received; the connotation of having dark skin as something dirty and able to wash away because of a soap was outrageous. And while the incident eventually faded after months of damage control by the company, it shows how important having people of different backgrounds is.
Next, equity is the pursuit of fair and impartial systems and distribution of resources within a company. It accommodates for the inherent disparities between different groups and adjusts to create equal opportunity for all of them. One key application of this is during the hiring process. And you might be thinking that this is simple, just make hiring completely blind to race, sexual orientation, or any significant factors. But that isn’t equity, that is equality. Equality is to treat everyone exactly the same regardless of their origin. But a key problem with this is that it doesn’t recognize the inherent disparity in opportunity and support between different people. For example, someone from a low socioeconomic background may not be able to afford the luxury of a four year university experience. And yet it is expected that they have a degree, doesn’t sound very fair right? Equity, in opposition to this, is the idea of granting concessions and providing support for these individuals. One way this is often done is for a company to hire a candidate and provide them training, and in some cases even fund them to get an education. Of course there are certain strings attached in such cases, such as a legal agreement to work for the company for a number of years.
Finally, inclusion, which is a more recent addition to the term, is to ensure that people from different origins are respected and truly a part of the community. In fact, in many cases companies will fulfill the first two aspects of DEI but fall short at inclusion because of its difficulty. The community of a company doesn’t just require a change in policy. It requires a complete change in the company’s culture and in the mindset of the employees. One of the key ways many companies fail is the integration and inclusion of women into the workplace. While it is often the case that companies have a good proportion of women at every level, even the C-Suite, it is not always the case that they are included. In fact, a common analogy from many high level female executives is that the glass ceiling is half broken. What they mean by that is that while it is possible for them to achieve positions of power they are often ignored and discounted in those positions. Problems such as this involve the mindsets of employees and even the unconscious biases that they may have, both aspects that are not easily solved.
This article is intended to provide an introduction and clarification of each of the three fields in a broader sense. But it is precisely that, an introduction. Each of these three fields is constantly evolving and changing with new research and learning that occurs everyday. In fact, McKinsey and Company, a famous consultant organization, conducts and releases new studies into each of these aspects every few years. As such, I hope that you will take the time to conduct your own research of DEI in the future.