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Recognizing the Important Distinctions Between D, E, and I

Work in the world of DEI has become somewhat of a jumble of acronyms over the past several years. First we had diversity and include (D&I) or, as we liked to frame it inclusion and diversity (I&D). Then equity (E) came into the mix. And, in some settings, we’re also seeing belonging (B) incorporated so that I&D becomes DEIB.

These are all important aspects of the work that organizations are doing to ensure that they build, engage, and leverage the talent of diverse workforce but in our work we find that there is a lot of confusion about these terms. People just don’t know the difference between inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Let’s drill down into these terms as we apply them in our work.

Diversity—the Differences Among People

Diversity is about representation. When you look at your workforce what types of people make up that workforce? Diversity is about numbers.

  • How many women and people of color are represented among your senior leadership ranks?

  • How many people with disabilities do you employ?

  • How many people of color are you bringing in for candidate interviews?

  • How many older employees—Baby Boomers—are you including in development activities?

From a DEI standpoint when we’re talking diversity, we’re talking about these type of attributes: age, sex, race, ethnicity, disability. And, while “diversity of thought” is important from a business standpoint, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Going down that path tends to conflate the issue and take focus away from where it’s needed—building a diverse workforce.

Inclusion—Seeking, and Listening, to Input From All Others

Inclusion is what you to with the diversity you’ve built. Too often we see and hear that organizations may be bringing in diverse talent, but they’re not retaining that diverse talent. Why? Often because this diverse talent doesn’t feel included.

They don’t feel their opinions are sought and valued. They don’t feel they’re asked to participate in important projects or on important teams. They don’t feel they’re part of the development pipeline. They feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. This is where the “B” comes into play with some companies focusing on ensuring their culture and environment nurtures a sense of belonging for all employees.

Diversity is about the numbers. Inclusion is about what you do with those numbers.

Equity—Providing Equitable, or Fair, Opportunities for Others

Equity is ensuring that all employees have access to the same opportunities and resources. That’s not as easy as it may sound.

While you might say “all of our employees have the same access to training and development,” and while that may be objectively true, subjectively not all employees may know about or understand the value of these opportunities.

Equity isn’t about policies—although policies are an important starting point. Equity is about identifying and removing barriers. It’s about ensuring that leaders, supervisors, and managers are being proactive in helping employees understand the opportunities that are available to them, that they’re provided with resources and support to position them for those opportunities, and that they’re not being inadvertently (or unconsciously) eliminated from consideration for these opportunities in some way.

For instance, a 65-year-old Black woman who doesn’t apply for a leadership position may not have applied because she feels her age is a barrier. An introverted Latina who didn’t offer input during a meeting to discuss a new product development initiative may feel that her ideas don’t stand a chance on a team populated by extroverted white males.

Managers need to be mindful about how their actions—or inaction—may be impacting employees and their opportunities to be treated equitably.

Whether you call it I&D, D&I, DEI, DEIB, or something else, the basis of organizations’ activities around building a diverse workforce where diverse opinions are sought and considered and where employees feel valued and that they belong, is the foundation of successful work in this space.

How are you doing with that?

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Are you tired of inclusion, diversity and equity learning that doesn't link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.


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