What do diversity, equity and inclusion actually mean?
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a commonly-used overarching term used to describe matters related to the workplace experiences of employees belonging to different groups.
However, it is important to carefully examine the three distinct words that make up this term. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have definitive meanings especially in the context of workplace policies and practices. Let’s understand them better.
Diversity is the unique set of characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity, age, physical challenges, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (and many more) that distinguish people. In the workplace scenario, diversity indicates the composition of the workforce with employees that display such characteristics. Hence, diversity in this context refers to the organization (a diverse company) and not the individual.
A diverse workforce is the opposite of a homogeneous workforce and what most organizations are marching towards. However, it is possible that due to years of systemic practices and unconscious bias, a truly diverse workplace is not in place yet. At such times, metrics such as representation numbers and gender ratios can help paint a clear picture of where an organization stands in terms of diversity. A closer look might reveal underlying issues such as hiring bias and invisible barriers to leadership positions.
Studies have revealed that diverse workforces have resulted in more innovations and better business outcomes due to the broad range of perspectives brought in by diverse team members.
Equity encompasses the acknowledgment that advantages or barriers exist for some employees and the creation of policies and processes that level the playing field for all. An equitable workplace provides a fair chance to all by addressing individual needs. Equity can more simply be stated as providing a common starting point to employees after assessing their challenges and helping them overcome them.
Two employees working at similar positions in an organization with similar educational qualifications, might be facing different challenges that would be affecting their ability to deliver similar outcomes. For example, if one of them is a woman, given traditional gender roles, she might be picking up more household chores equivalent to a part-time job. Hence, it is important that the manager discusses how best she can be supported (e.g. flexible work hours) in order to have an equitable work situation.
Acknowledging and addressing unique circumstances of employees can curb attrition especially of underrepresented groups as they feel more understood and supported at the workplace.
Inclusion implies making each employee in a diverse workplace feel welcome, wanted and supported. A diverse workplace need not necessarily be an inclusive workplace, it is not a given. Inclusion needs initiative. It entails employees feeling valued and cherished. It involves not just acknowledging differences but celebrating and making room for them.
The introduction and nurturing of Employee Resource Groups is a great way to champion inclusion. Raising awareness, organising events and encouraging cross-ERG collaborations are great ways to promote inclusion. Creating a safe space and secure communication channels for all employees to speak up if they feel excluded is important. Conducting meaningful surveys to gauge employee sentiment will reveal ground realities and enable timely action.
A truly inclusive workplace can positively impact employee satisfaction and employee retention.
A better understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion can help identify gaps in any organizational DEI strategy. It can also help figure out dissonance (if any) felt by employees and come up with ways to overcome them.
Did you use these terms interchangeably in the past? Let us know in the comments.