Look them up in the Oxford Dictionary and you’ll find:
Diversity: The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Equity: The quality of being fair and impartial.
Inclusion: The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
Okay, so now what? You likely now have more questions than answers about how this all pertains to your organization.
And as a highly experienced authority on Change Management and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I can attest that there is a reason for the confusion. This is not easy stuff. In fact, it’s complicated, uncomfortable, and messy. But there is a method to the madness.
The truth is, it isn’t the definitions that are confusing, it’s the meaning behind the words and trying to understand what each term means when applied to our respective workplaces and professions.
This complicated journey should begin with your leadership defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion exclusively for your organization.
· These terms are broad, but an organization needs to be intentional and specific.
· No two organizations are exactly the same. Each has its own goals, objectives, and challenges.
In order to effectively define DEI, you must answer three critical questions:
1.) Why are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion important for your organization?
2.) How are these terms specifically defined for your organization?
3.) Who do you want to impact?
Like I said, it’s not easy stuff. But — and this is important — it’s also not just PC gobbledygook. Let’s break it down a bit.
1) Why DEI?
DEI for your business or organization needs to have a clear purpose and intent. While it is the right thing to do, that’s not enough. Your leadership must collectively understand and articulate why it’s important for them. And although the moral imperative is a wonderful reason, it won’t fuel the budget, support, and resources necessary to achieve and sustain impact.
Therefore, DEI needs to be tied directly to business reasons. Various research over the last 10 to 15 years has shown that there are many, including increases and improvements in:
· Talent recruitment and retention
· Customer loyalty
· Team and individual performance
· Market share
· Financial growth
· Customer loyalty
Furthermore, McKinsey & Company’s January 2018 study, Delivering Through Diversity, found that:
· Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.
· Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity on their executive teams were 33% more likely to have financial returns above national industry median.
Your business case for DEI must be aligned with your strategic goals. If one of your strategic goals is to develop new products, then innovation may be a key driver of DEI. As with any strategy, don’t waste your time listing every and any objective, only those directly tied to your organization’s overall strategic goals.
2) How Does Your Organization Define DEI?
Dictionary definitions can’t just be copied and pasted into your culture. Your leadership team must dig deep, build from the DEI business case, and determine how your organization internalizes and reflects these important concepts.
To do that, you need a solid understanding of your internal demographics and culture, the demographics you are and could/should be serving for sustainability and growth, and the overall social context in which you are operating.
Let’s break this down a bit with an imaginary and simplistic organization and use Apples, Oranges, and Pears as our diversity example (may seem like an odd example but trust me and go with it).
You are a 30-person company that produces widgets and sells to local consumers. The company is owned and operated by an Orange. Because of our natural tendency to surround ourselves with people who are like us (Unconscious Bias Fact Sheet), you have assembled a team comprised of Oranges.
A key component of your organization’s strategy is to grow market share. You’ve done the research and know that there is a huge opportunity to serve the under-represented Apple and Pear consumers, who collectively make up 30% of the population in the area. But with inadequate Apple or Pear representation, you will continue to have a hard time understanding and dominating the market. Therefore, a critical component of your diversity definition will need to include Apples and Pears.
Now let’s move on to thinking about how Equity and Inclusion might be defined in your organization. Let’s say you have been recruiting Apples and Pears, but you haven’t been able to attract and retain them. This is where Inclusion and Equity come into play. Defining Diversity can help you change the makeup of your organization, but Equity and Inclusion are critical to achieve and sustain the desired business reasons, the “why.”
For lawyers this definition may be the easiest to understand, but each organization needs to assess their culture and determine what is fair and impartial. This requires looking at policies and practices that, whether written or built into cultural norms, provide advantages or disadvantages for different groups of folks.
Again, when defining what Equity is for your organization, look at your DEI business case — why you are doing this work, and how that translates to Equity.
As you probably already know, Equity is not equality. Treating everyone the same will not create a sustainable model for achieving Diversity. Differences need to be acknowledged, recognized, and respected.
Let’s continue with our Apples, Oranges, and Pears. Each of these fruits need different elements to flourish. What if your organization is treating everyone like an Orange? That isn’t providing opportunities for the Apples and Pears to grow and thrive. So even if they are hired into your company, how long do you think they will last? How much value can they bring if they don’t have the opportunities to be their best?
In an organization full of Oranges, will the Apples and Pears feel like they belong? Say the company hosts an annual party to thank its employees for their hard work. Every single person in the company is invited. While the owner personally welcomes everyone and shares their DEI goals and progress, the Apples and Pears look around the room and see only orange tablecloths, centerpieces of mini-orange trees, and orange candy giveaways. The owner’s speech is sincere and well-intentioned, but the Apples and Pears are receiving a visual message that completely contradicts inclusion and belonging.
So, going back to your DEI business case:
What does being “invited” look and feel like at your organization?
3) Who Is DEI for?
To say “everyone” is a noble and just answer, but it won’t get you where you need to go. Specific objectives and actions that tie directly back to your DEI business case are a must to implement and sustain positive impact. Therefore, you need to determine your focus — is it employees, customers, suppliers? Now I know you are saying, yes, yes, and yes!
Go ahead, list all the constituents who you need to impact with DEI. Then ask yourself:
· Can and should you address all these folks at the same time?
· How do those folks tie back to your business case for DEI?
· Who is your priority?
Get your leadership team on the same page to determine your DEI priorities. Be it Apples, Oranges, Pears (or even Grapes or Lemons), it’s time to start growing in the same direction for the most fruitful results.
Michelle Tenner Cantor is founder and president of Volar Consulting, LLC in metropolitan Detroit. She integrates strategic planning, leadership coaching, and organizational culture development to enable clients to achieve and sustain Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) excellence. She has over 20 years of Change Management consulting experience and is a Certified Diversity Executive®. She is an alum of Leadership Oakland’s Class of XXIX Cornerstone program.
Reprinted with permission from Michigan Lawyers Weekly, Inc., 900 West University Drive, Suite J, Rochester, MI 48307, (248) 865.3112 © 2020