Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The Basics
By: Kamaljit "Sonya" Virdi, Ph.D. | July 2, 2021
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are not new concepts, but you may have been hearing more about them in your office over the last few years. Employers are prioritizing DEI in response to the Me Too movement that exposed gender inequities and the protests that shed light on racial inequities following George Floyd’s death in 2020. I have the good fortune of working with a lot of women of color and I hear firsthand the ways in which they often feel marginalized in the office.
Since there are varying levels of understanding of DEI, this article will provide an overview of DEI, why it’s important and ways to make your office a safer space.
What is DEI?
Diversity is all the ways in which people differ from one another. This can include race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, veteran status, education, marital status, language, age, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, and learning styles, to name a few.
It is important to understand that diversity is a relational concept, which means teams and groups are diverse but not individual people . In other words, there’s no such thing as a diverse candidate. When referring to a Black woman as diverse, it perpetuates the idea that White, cisgender able-bodied men are the norm, which can be othering to underrepresented groups .
Equity is fair advancement, access, opportunity, and treatment for all people, which often requires reducing barriers that prevent participation for some groups. An awareness of the underlying causes for such disparities can help create more equitable systems.
Inclusion is about environments in which people feel welcomed, valued, and supported. Verna Myers, a DEI educator, captured it well with her quote “Diversity is being invited to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance .”
A few examples of DEI in the workplace include efforts to hire individuals from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, discussions about DEI needs within companies, and changes in marketing and mission statements to reflect DEI values.
Why is DEI Important?
A common misconception is that DEI is only beneficial for minorities. In fact, DEI is good for everyone in the office. The benefits of DEI in the workplace include improved financial performance , more innovation and growth , and better decision-making . But more importantly, it can increase an employee’s sense of belonging, which is good for mental health!
How to Make your Office a Safer Place
Challenge your assumptions
Read and learn more about DEI if you feel skeptical about its benefits. Sometimes what is unfamiliar can feel scary at first. Channeling your skepticism into understanding can reduce that fear and help you grow. Your office may offer resources or trainings. The Internet is also a great resource and a quick Google search for “diversity, equity and inclusion” yields 21 million results in less than one second. Reflect on why you might be resistant to DEI. Maybe you are worried about your own sense of job security, or you realize that you have unknowingly contributed to making the office less safe for others. Remember that being uncomfortable is a normal part of change and even growth.
Encourage your colleagues and those you supervise to provide you with feedback often. Vary the ways in which you ask for this feedback. Obtain anonymous feedback from your colleagues to allow people to be more honest and candid. When provided with feedback, listen, and take time to really understand it. For example, if you receive feedback that the women of color in the office feel they are often overlooked for promotions, avoid being defensive because this has the potential to minimize your colleague’s experience. Whether anonymous or not, remember that it took courage for this colleague to speak up. Validate the sharing and work with your team for solutions.
Improve meeting dynamics
- Allow time to pause when no one is talking and before changing topics. Sometimes the pace of a meeting is too fast and not everyone’s voice can be heard.
- Rotate who leads meetings to allow everyone to contribute, lead and feel included. The different leading styles may help generate new ideas and innovations.
- Pay attention to who might be interrupting or talking over another colleague. It is common for female colleagues to get interrupted by male colleagues. Point it out when you see it and give your female colleagues an opportunity to finish what they were saying.
- Reflect on the demographics in your industry and this may help you get a better understanding of the dynamics in your office. For instance, if you are in a technology field that is predominately men, understand that the underrepresented groups (anyone not in the majority) may feel self-conscious that they are representing others who look like them. Encourage those who speak often to step down, and those who speak less frequently to step up. In addition, allow people to contribute after the meeting in case they may feel more likely to share in another format.
Remember, even though it may be uncomfortable at first, learning more about DEI and implementing these strategies are great starting points for making your office a safer space. I hope that this information is helpful and empowers you to take the next step to learn more about DEI in your workplace.
 Saska, S. (n.d.). How to define diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. Cultureamp. https://www.cultureamp.com/blog/how-to-define-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-at-work
 Myers, V. (n.d.) https://www.vernamyers.com/
 Hunt, V, Layton, D., & Prince, S. (2015, January). Why diversity matters. McKinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Organization/Our%20Insights/Why%20diversity%20matters/Why%20diversity%20matters.ashx
 Hewlett, S.A., Marshall, M., & Sherbin, L. (2013, December). How Diversity Can Drive Innovation. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation
 Larson, E. (2017, September 21). New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making at Work. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2017/09/21/new-research-diversity-inclusion-better-decision-making-at-work/?sh=3a1474524cbf
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash