Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) is now a frequently used term in the corporate world. The significance is broadly understood, however, the reality of work that needs to be done to truly bring it about varies depending upon the organization’s maturity level.
Having said that, in my view and experience, no matter how established or new your DE&I practices may be, there are aspects which need to be reiterated and re-emphasized about multiple times to ensure the same shared understanding of what DE&I means – generally and in your specific context – and hence what could be done to achieve an inclusive culture.
1. Understanding the commonly used terminology – this might seem obvious but is so fundamental that if the essence of these terms is appropriately understood and captured, it creates a strong foundation for any present or future work to further the DE&I agenda. Some common terms are –
a. Diversity: multiple different people being present to sit at the table
b. Equality: giving everyone the same chair to sit at the table
c. Equity: giving everyone a chair that fits them best (ex – with adjustable height) to sit at the table
d. Inclusion: accepting that everyone has a different chair and welcoming it
e. Belonging: making every person at the table feel like they can use the chair the way they want and still be valued
Making sure that every employee and leader is well versed with these terms and their essence makes it easier to formulate and deploy meaningful action plans. This can be done by conducting trainings (preferably mandatory) at least once a year – first time for new employees and a necessary refresher for existing employees. Leaders should be encouraged to do team huddles to discuss these terms, their significance and how they can together move the needle.
2. Significance of Taxonomy – language is a vital tool accessible to human beings. It’s a known fact that from all communication, about 7% is done through direct use of language and remaining 93% is through non-verbal cues. However, this 7% takes precedence in situations and tends to incite a reaction from the listener while they pick up and process the non-verbal body language subconsciously. More often than not, leaders are wary of talking about DE&I in depth as they don’t want to say something incorrect or inappropriate and hurt sentiments. Using inclusive language, while knowing that even within the same community people may prefer different ways of being addressed, is an important distinction. We can never know it all as it is a continuous learning journey where slip-ups will happen. Being willing and open to them and requesting the other person to partner with you in the learning journey is the best approach to keep moving forward and push the envelope to more inclusive horizons. As a quick reference, the key tenets of inclusive language are –
– using person first language, not their attribute – person with disability rather than disabled person
– using gender neutral language and pronouns that a person identifies with – be inclusive by saying ‘humankind’ instead of ‘mankind’, better to ask than assume whether they prefer she/her/hers, he/him/his or they/them/their
– saying what is meant rather than implying it vaguely – ‘diversity’ being used synonymously with ‘women’, calling an open role a ‘diversity hire’ role,
3. Dimensions of Diversity – diversity comes in innumerable shapes and forms. A few of these broad dimensions are easily identifiable – Gender, Generation, transgender (when expressed), religion (in presence of physical cues), physical disability amongst others. However, there are many which are not visible – sexual orientation, skill sets, thought processes, invisible disabilities, to mention a handful. Each person is unique, though at the same time each person could associate themselves with one or more identities and communities. Giving people access to these identity-based communities and enabling them to flourish the way they see best, goes a long way in making a workplace inclusive, accepting and where people can feel like they belong. Once the communities are established, potentially as Employee Resource Groups, it’s of import to partner with them to enable the employee value proposition relevant to each community – benefits, learning interventions, external expert conversations, engagement and sense of oneness.
4. Mindset – In my humble opinion, inclusion is not something you do, it’s how you think. It’s a mindset of being open to differences, of making sure every voice in the room is heard esp. the silent ones. Inclusion is about every single employee internalizing that they are individually responsible for making others feel included – by being aware of others, truly acknowledging their presence and making space for everyone around them. It can range from a simple act of greeting and asking someone how they are doing to be willing, to learn things about others that we may be assuming instead of asking, to making sure everyone feels heard.
It’s imperative to think and plan for an inclusive culture and workplace. However, the proof of the pudding is in the actual “doing” and “being”, leading to the sentiment of belonging it generates amongst the employees. There are instances where organizations and leaders tend to over-index on one aspect at the cost of the others, resulting in potential backlash and negative feedback. It’s as much an art as science to maintain the balance and being
inclusive towards one and all.