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Do we even understand Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2023?

January 2, 2023

Understanding the differences between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and how to act on them in the workplace

We have all read the same LinkedIn and Twitter announcements made by companies in many industries over the last 2 to 3 years. The ones who proclaimed that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts were top of mind and vowed to move the needle in changing the status quo. To do this, promises were made to change the leadership landscape by practicing more inclusive hiring practices and empowering DEI experts who would implement real and sustained changes. Yet, it is now 2023 and after all of the performative actions have happened: a groundswell of hiring and promoting people of color to lead these initiatives, some companies look no different in the boardroom, on the executive team or elsewhere. DEI leaders are resigning in droves with "60% of chief diversity officers at S&P 500 companies left their jobs between 2018 and 2021. They also found that the average tenure of chief diversity officers decreased from 3.1 to 1.8 years in 2021, whereas CEOs stay an average of five years, according to PwC". Also according to Gartner Research and even though DEI is still considered a priority for many organizations, less than 50% of HR managers feel that their companies are able to create the necessary measures to keep their teams accountable for DEI results. Less than 50% is big so let's unpack what could be happening.

First, let's make sure we understand the differences between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and how they may overlap but are not interchangeable.

What is Diversity? Imagine looking into a aquarium or terrarium and seeing all manner of plant life. and sea life. To understand exactly what you were seeing, you may first find the differences between each subgroup and then search for similarities. Or maybe vice versa. That mixture of differences and similarities defines diversity and includes, values, preferences, backgrounds, location, beliefs, experience plus organizational and anthropomorphic information like race and gender. Using our analogy, whoever built the terrarium or aquarium needs to make sure the environment acknowledges and supports the diversity within it so that all species can thrive. To do that, they would need to track all of the types of organisms currently within the environment and set measurable goals to fill gaps.

What is Equity? Now imagine that you are staring at the same terrarium or aquarium and noting which group(s) gets fed first, fed consistently, and fed well vs the animals and plants that don't. Equity, not to be confused with equality, is defined as giving equal access to information, opportunity, and overall resources. Equity is about accepting that biases exist and working hard to eliminate them and overcome stereotypes such as women need to be viewed as pretty and/or sweet and kind to get ahead OR quiet people need to be extroverted to be taken seriously. In comparison, Equality is about sameness aka treating everyone the same no matter what which we know has its downsides if the same means treating people badly. You can't feed a fish the same food as you would feed a penguin, right? In terms of work, organizations should ensure they empower their teams with the tools, information, and resources to excel in their roles and potentially move up within the organization.

What is Inclusion?

Inclusion is defined by team members and how they feel about where they work: Am I accepted? respected? am I valued enough to be a part of making organizational decisions or to be promoted in the short and long-term? Below is what drives feelings of inclusion in the workplace:

  • Being treated fairly i.e knowing you, along with teammates, will be compensated for helping the company
  • Being a part of decision making especially for items that involve them directly
  • Feel psychologically safe to speak up
  • Knowing there is room for differences of opinion
  • Belonging and feeling cared about by the organization
  • Trust in the honesty of leadership and the communication it shares with the team
  • Diversity in the leadership group

In terms of work, tracking Inclusion means measuring employee sentiment via collecting data and actioning it based on that feedback.

So, knowing the above, it is easy to see where overlaps can happen and how tracking these can fall by the wayside in the world of other priorities. But here's the thing: falling behind in any of the above WILL have repercussions in team morale. Relying on leadership's hopeful interpretation of the employment landscape is one-sided because looking down from the "top" of any organization will only yield one highly skewed view.

As people, we are more alike than we are different but our differences are beautiful too".

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