Getting hung up on words: What does DEI even mean?

Sep 21, 2021

One of  my favorite questions that I have seen asked is: Is your organization talking about “inclusion and equity” but really only focused on “diversity”?– Courtesy of Equity in the Center

Answering it is simple.  Understanding what it means for your organization is much harder.

Maybe it’s my law training, but words matter.  When I work with folks, it’s very important to always establish what these words mean before we start working together. So I always suggest that the starting place for work on diversity, equity, and inclusion starts with shared language.

Diversity refers to the presence of individuals from various backgrounds or identities.  Diversity means difference.

Inclusion involves creating environments where an individual or group is welcomed, respected, supported, and fully valued.

And equity asks us to disrupt the status quo and incorporate everyone’s needs, assets, and perspectives into the design and implementation of their processes, their policies, their activities, and their decision-making.

A follow-up question that I ask after we go over what these terms mean is: 

 

In the last 6 months to a year, what has been your organization’s impact?  Achieving more diversity? OR More inclusion? OR More Equity? Measure the impact of your efforts against what you intended to do.

 

I am going to burst some bubbles here. Most of the time, my clients have been doing their DEI work believing that they were focused on inclusion and equity when all of their efforts have really been focused only on diversity.  

Hiring more Black, Indigenous, and People of color? Diversity.  Trying to get more folks of color into the leadership? Diversity.  Asking for demographics during onboarding? Diversity.

Not inclusion and not equity work.   

What it takes to achieve diversity is different from what it takes to achieve inclusion or equity.  The strategies are different, the timelines are different.  It’s just different.  

And when I am working with folks, I pull different tools out of my toolbox depending on what you want to achieve.

I am wedded to your DEI goals as much as you.  And the clarity of our language first is going to really help us get there.

 

Onward

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