What is DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

The attitude toward workplace dynamics and inclusivity has made promising strides over the past decade. Where once the conversation was stalled on whether or not measures should be taken to increase workplace diversity, there is a widespread understanding that organizations and businesses with a more diverse workforce perform better.

This realization has led many organizations to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to improve their bottom line. However, there still needs to be some clarification about what DEI is.

Diversity includes race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Equity means that everyone has an opportunity to succeed in the workplace regardless of their characteristics. Inclusion goes beyond simply having a diverse workforce and focuses on creating an environment where all employees feel welcome and respected.

Together, these concepts make up the foundation of DEI. Organizations that want to create a more inclusive workplace must focus on all three areas. This article will provide an overview:

Let’s get started!

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What is Diversity in The Workplace?

Diversity can be defined as differences in race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, religion, ability, and national origin. It can also refer to differences in thinking styles, communication preferences, and life experiences.

Diversity means actively hiring and promoting people from all walks of life in the workplace. It means creating an environment where everyone feels safe and respected, regardless of their differences. And it means working to understand and embrace those differences.

Where Does Diversity Stem From?

To the younger generations, having a diverse workplace may seem like the usual way of life. However, this has only sometimes been the case. The shift towards diversity in the workplace has been a long time coming.

In the past, there were several demographics severely marginalized or outright excluded:

  • Women,
  • People of color,
  • LGBTQIA+ individuals, and
  • People with disabilities.

This was primarily due to systemic discrimination and exclusionary practices.

For example, women were often paid less than men for the same work, people of color were excluded from specific industries and positions, LGBTQIA+ individuals were persecuted and fired, and people with disabilities were often overlooked for employment altogether.

Thankfully, society has progressed over the years, and we have recognized the importance of diversity in the workplace. We now understand that a diverse workplace is not only more equitable but it also increases employee wellbeing and boosts profits.

What Is Equity?

In a nutshell, equity is the principle that everyone should have an opportunity to participate in the benefits of society, regardless of their social and economic backgrounds. This includes having access to education, healthcare, housing, and employment opportunities.

In the workplace, equity means everyone is given the resources they need to succeed, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. This includes equal pay for equal work and opportunities for advancement.

Equality Versus Equity

Equality was an incredibly overused word in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) sphere for many years. It’s thrown around a lot concerning race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other areas where people may feel they are not treated equally.

The problem with equality is that it assumes everyone starts from the same place and that if everyone is given the same resources, they will all be able to achieve the same outcomes. In reality, this is not the case, as people’s starting points are often very different.

Equity, on the other hand, considers people’s backgrounds and circumstances and ensures everyone can participate in society. Workplaces that endorse equity are more likely to succeed, as all employees feel valued and have a voice.

What Is Inclusion?

After diversity and equity are fostered within a company, you may assume that inclusion would naturally follow. However, inclusion is not always an automatic process.

Inclusion means that individuals feel welcomed and respected in their environment, regardless of their identity or background. It also means that everyone can participate in the workplace and contribute to the organization’s success.

Forty-eight percent of employees agree that respect is the number one determinant of inclusion in the workplace. Employees who feel respected — from their dignity and beliefs to their appearance and lifestyle  –  they are much more likely to feel included.

Inclusion is not a one-time event but a continuous journey that starts with creating an inclusive environment and culture. Organizations must work continuously to identify and remove barriers preventing employees from feeling included.

What Does Exclusion Look Like?

Believe it or not, exclusion can occur in even the most diverse workplaces. Exclusion occurs when individuals or groups are not allowed to participate fully in the workplace or when they are treated differently because of their identity or background.

Some signs that your company may not be as inclusive as you think include:

  • Employees feel uncomfortable discussing their personal lives at work
  • Individuals avoid certain areas of the office or work tasks because they do not feel comfortable
  • Colleagues do not socialize outside of work
  • Promotions, raises, and other opportunities are given to a select few

Often, this is because the organization has yet to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and respected.

Perhaps there are an equal number of women and men in leadership positions, but the women are not given equal pay or opportunity for advancement. Or maybe people with disabilities — while being given the position within a company — are not given the same accommodations as other employees.

For companies to succeed, they must first acknowledge that everyone is different and that differences should be celebrated. Only then can organizations foster an environment of inclusion where everyone feels comfortable and respected — regardless of their identity or background.

The Intersectionality of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Grasping the complex nature of DEI requires understanding intersectionality; it is a concept that helps us appreciate how various aspects of a person’s identity can lead to unique forms of prejudice and discrimination. By recognizing the importance of intersectionality, we can create meaningful change in our communities and beyond.

Understanding Intersectionality

Intersectionality is an influential concept coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a renowned American lawyer, civil rights advocate, and leading scholar of critical race theory. This theory proposes that individuals’ identities are formed through the interplay of various social dimensions and personal characteristics such as race, class, gender, and sexuality – among others. It suggests that these elements do not exist in isolation but combine to shape experiences of privilege or discrimination. 

For example, consider a woman of color working in a tech company. Her experience isn’t limited to gender bias or racial prejudice alone — the unique combination of both makes her situation distinct from her white female colleagues or male counterparts of color.

Intersectionality in the Context of DEI

Organizations need to understand and address these intersectional experiences to create an inclusive and equitable environment. Here’s how intersectionality relates to each facet of DEI:

  • Diversity: A diverse workplace doesn’t just mean having employees of different races, genders, or ages. It also means understanding and appreciating that individuals can identify with diverse groups. Embracing intersectionality in diversity means recognizing and valuing these multiple layers of diversity within individuals.
  • Equity: Equity is about ensuring everyone has access to the same opportunities. Recognizing intersectionality is crucial to this because different groups may face additional barriers. Equity demands that these unique challenges be understood and addressed accordingly.
  • Inclusion: An inclusive environment is one where everyone feels valued and can participate fully. It’s not enough to merely have diverse individuals in a workplace if they don’t feel they can be their authentic selves. 

Understanding intersectionality is vital to creating an atmosphere where people with intersecting identities feel genuinely included.

Making Intersectionality Work in Practice

In a practical sense, intersectionality could mean revamping hiring practices to ensure they’re inclusive and not inadvertently exclude certain groups. It could involve creating affinity groups or mentorship programs that cater to individuals with intersecting identities. It also means educating everyone in the organization about intersectionality, its impacts, and how they can contribute to more inclusive workplace culture.

Consider an organization that creates an affinity group for employees with disabilities and another for LGBTQ+ employees. An employee who identifies as both may feel torn between these two groups. Instead, the organization could create intersectional affinity groups or, at the very least, work to ensure existing groups are inclusive of intersectional identities.

The Current State of DEI in The Workplace

The prevalence of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace has grown exponentially in recent years, and certainly since the late ’90s. This may be due to the many social movements that have occurred since then, such as marriage equality, Black Lives Matter, and the Me Too movement. But despite this progress, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that workplaces are truly inclusive for everyone.

So, what is the current state of DEI according to facts and figures? Let’s take a look at some of the key findings from this year’s Culture Amp report:

  • Eighty one percent of HR reps agreed that DEI is essential to their employee well-being and company success; however, only 34 percent of respondents believed they had enough resources to address it
  • Just 49 percent of organizations in the study reported having a practical, strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Over the past year, the workplace experience improved for certain minorities (Black and Asian employees) but declined for others (Latinx and LGBTQ employees)
  • Only 21 percent of responding organizations offered child care support benefits, and under 10 percent offered aid for senior employees.

These data points are significantly better than we’ve seen in past reports, and the fact that a gender pay gap isn’t featured on every report page is a sign of progress. However, there is still much work regarding DEI in the workplace.

Often, the positive changes we see in the workplace around DEI can be attributed to the efforts of individuals and groups who are passionate about their cause. Efforts like Black Lives Matter, for instance, have highlighted that people of color still face significant barriers in the workplace and beyond.

The report mentioned above found that improvements correlated directly with movements like these, while declines in the experience of specific groups could be linked to inactivity in the public eye. Organizations aren’t paying enough attention to the quieter conversations happening in their workplaces, and this is where the gaps still exist.

Another issue is that companies are doing a lot of talking but hardly any doing. There are talks of diversity and inclusion in most organizations – after all, it’s now a board-level issue — but when it comes to putting those words into practice, organizations often fall short.

So, why are these pitfalls an issue that companies should address? Besides making their workforce happier, what’s in it for the CEOs and COOs? Let’s take a look.

Why You Should Care About DEI In The Workplace

When it comes to increasing your workplace’s diversity, equity, and inclusion, there are benefits for your employees. Minorities in your workplace can feel more comfortable and accepted in their environment and be better able to perform their jobs.

But alongside these benefits, did you know that there are several proven advantages for your business?

Increasing diversity has been linked with many positive outcomes for companies, from improved creativity and innovation to increased financial returns. Let’s zoom in a little.

  • According to McKinsey and Company, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians.
  • The same study found that more gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform their competition.
  • In 2021, 67 percent of job seekers actively sought workplaces with a diverse workforce.
  • Companies that diversify their workforce are three times more likely to retain millennial employees long-term.
  • Employees of diverse and inclusive workplaces are 18 percent more committed to their roles and 26 percent better at collaborating with colleagues.

There are many good reasons to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace. Not only is it the right thing to do morally, but it can also have a positive impact on your business’s bottom line. So where do you start?

DEI in Remote Work Environments

The rise of remote work has redefined traditional work practices, including implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. While remote work offers new opportunities to enhance DEI, it also presents unique challenges that organizations must address.

Opportunities for DEI in Remote Work

In remote environments, physical barriers to diversity are eliminated. Organizations can hire from a broader talent pool, bringing in employees from diverse geographical locations, cultures, and backgrounds, enriching their workforce diversity.

Further, remote work can provide enhanced opportunities for those struggling with traditional office environments, such as individuals with certain disabilities or caretaking responsibilities.

Challenges to DEI in Remote Work

Remote work can also exacerbate inequities and create new inclusion challenges despite its benefits. Unconscious biases can still occur, for example, during virtual meetings where voices from diverse employees may not be heard equally.

Digital literacy and access to technology can also create an equity gap. Employees in regions with limited internet access or those unable to afford high-quality technology may be disadvantaged.

Promoting DEI in Remote Work Environments

Ensuring DEI in remote settings requires conscious efforts:

  • Diversity: Organizations can utilize the broader talent pool due to remote work’s geographical flexibility. They should aim to recruit from diverse locations, backgrounds, and communities.
  • Equity: Companies must provide all employees with the necessary tools and resources for remote work, ensuring equal access to technology and digital resources.
  • Inclusion: Creating an inclusive remote culture requires deliberate actions. Regular virtual meetings that encourage participation from everyone, clear communication channels, and virtual team-building activities can foster a sense of belonging among all team members.

Ensuring all employees feel valued, heard, and treated equitably, regardless of their location or circumstances, is vital for cultivating a thriving remote work culture.

Barriers to Achieving Equity and How to Overcome Them

Creating an equitable work environment is a complex task. It involves recognizing and addressing various barriers that stand in the way of true equity. Below are some common obstacles and potential solutions:

  1. Unconscious bias: This can unknowingly affect decision-making processes, leading to unfair outcomes. Overcoming this requires regular bias training and awareness programs that help employees recognize and counteract their unconscious biases.
  2. Inadequate policies: Policies that don’t explicitly promote equity can maintain the status quo. To rectify this, review and revise organizational policies to ensure they are inclusive and fair.
  3. Lack of representation: If decision-making bodies lack diversity, they might not fully understand or advocate for everyone’s needs. Increasing diversity at all levels, especially leadership, can help address this issue.
  4. Resistance to change: Some individuals may resist equity initiatives due to misunderstandings or fear of change. Open dialogues, education, and awareness campaigns can help mitigate this resistance.
  5. Limited resources: Some organizations may struggle to provide the necessary resources to all employees. Providing equitable resources may require budget allocations, fundraising, or partnerships.
  6. Inadequate data: It’s hard to identify equity gaps without proper data. Regular data collection and analysis can highlight these gaps and provide a roadmap for improvement.
  7. Societal norms and stereotypes: Deeply ingrained societal beliefs can hinder equity. Overcoming this requires ongoing education and open conversations to challenge these norms and stereotypes.
  8. Unequal access to opportunities: Some groups may lack access to certain opportunities due to systemic issues. Creating intentional opportunities for underrepresented groups can help bridge this gap.

By acknowledging these barriers and working to overcome them, organizations can take significant steps toward creating a more equitable workplace.

Measuring DEI Progress in Your Organization

Quantifying the effectiveness of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives is crucial for maintaining their momentum and impact. Here are several key ways to measure DEI progress:

  1. Employee surveys: Regular anonymous surveys can provide insights into employees’ experiences and perceptions of DEI in the workplace. 
  2. Representation metrics: Collect data on the diversity of your workforce at all levels, from entry-level positions to leadership roles. 
  3. Retention and turnover rates: Higher turnover rates within specific groups might signal an issue with inclusion or equity.
  4. Inclusive hiring practices: Measure the diversity of your applicant pool and new hires. 
  5. Training participation: Low participation rates might indicate a lack of engagement or understanding of DEI’s importance.
  6. Career progression: Monitor the career progression of underrepresented groups. 
  7. Pay equity analyses: Conduct regular pay equity audits to ensure that employees doing similar work are compensated fairly, regardless of their gender, race, or other demographic characteristics.

How to Improve DEI in Your Organization

Now that you possess all of the facts relevant to DEI in the workplace, it’s time to take action. The first step is to assess your organization and its current climate.

Consider the diversity of your employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. What policies and practices are in place to ensure everyone feels welcome, respected, and able to trust one another? Are there areas where improvement is needed?

Here are a few signs that you may need to work on your DEI initiatives:

  • Your workforce is not representative of the population at large.
  • Employees do not feel comfortable discussing diversity and inclusion issues.
  • Harassment or discrimination is tolerated or goes unreported.
  • The organization lacks cultural competency.
  • There is a lack of diversity in leadership roles.

If your organization exhibits any of these signs, you’re not alone. But addressing them head-on is essential to create a more inclusive workplace.

1. Develop a diversity and inclusion policy.

As we saw in the research, many companies fail their employees by talking the talk without walking the walk. Don’t just talk about being inclusive; write a mission statement, and make sure everyone in the organization knows it. This includes your board, management team, and employees at all levels.

Your policy should cover diversity, equity, inclusion, bias, discrimination, and harassment. It should also outline expectations for employee behavior, including how to handle complaints. And finally, it should spell out the consequences for violating the policy.

2. Train your employees on diversity and inclusion.

It’s not enough to simply have a policy; employees must understand what it means and how to implement it. This is where training comes in. Offer diversity and inclusion training to all employees, and make sure it’s regularly updated.

Your employees should walk away from training with a better understanding of the following:

  • The business case for diversity and inclusion.
  • How to recognize and address unconscious bias.
  • What constitutes harassment and discrimination, and how to report it.
  • How to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their perspectives. 

You’ll know you’re doing an excellent job if employees apply the principles they’ve learned to their daily interactions.

3. Assess your progress and make course corrections.

It’s essential to track your progress on your DEI initiatives. This will help you identify areas where more improvement is needed, and it can also be used to measure the impact of your efforts.

Ensure you’re assessing all aspects of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and socioeconomic status. Use both quantitative and qualitative data to get a complete picture.

Keep your thumb on the pulse of the DEI industry, too, monitoring new research and best practices. The landscape constantly changes, so staying ahead of the curve is essential.

With these three steps, you’re on your way to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

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Final Thoughts

It can feel overwhelming to think about implementing a new DEI strategy, especially if this is your first time addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. However, by starting small and taking things one step at a time, you can make meaningful progress toward creating an inclusive environment for all employees.

Above all, remember that diversity, equity, and inclusion are about people. When you view DEI as a human-centered approach, it becomes easier to see the value in these concepts and the importance of implementing them in your workplace.