We have gotten far beyond the initial days of just speaking of diversity in isolation. Organizations know that representation without inclusion and equity is diversity that does not stick. But what exactly do these separate but interconnected concepts mean? One way to think about it, in Verna Myers’ words, is that “Diversity is being invited to the party” while inclusion is “being asked to dance”. The addition of equity can be thought of as ensuring everyone at the party is treated fairly and has an accessible way of travelling there and back.
To start, diversity can be understood as representation: having individuals with different backgrounds present at the table to share their own unique perspectives. Different backgrounds are not limited to factors like race, ethnicity, or gender — they also include intersecting factors such as sexual orientation, socio-economic status, education, age, and physical abilities. What’s important to note is that diversity is not about maintaining set quotas of individuals across certain groups. Rather, diversity is about having access to diverse perspectives and ideas, while also preventing groupthink. In an increasingly diverse world, diverse teams are best suited to represent and serve the different needs and wants of customers.
Although achieving diversity is a great first step, teams need inclusion for diversity to stick. Not only do we need different voices to be present at the table, but these voices should be able to contribute and be heard. Inclusive organizations are ones where individuals of all backgrounds are able to bring their authentic selves at work, and feel secure, accepted and heard. In inclusive teams, employees from “non-dominant” groups are empowered to share ideas, and team members are open to different opinions and perspectives. Corporate leaders who set the tone from the top can aim to foster inclusive organizations by encouraging collaborative teamwork, respect and compassion, and an receptiveness to differences.
Last but not least, equity is about employees across the board having an equal opportunity to thrive and advance at their organization. One key component of equity is fair workplace management and culture. This includes implementing an employee feedback and review system that is fair, objective, and free from unconscious bias, ensuring all employees have access to career development resources just as mentors, and striving for a transparent workplace free of nepotism and favoritism. Beyond fair workplace culture, offering flexible work options is also a crucial component of equity. Flexible work options include supporting employees with different needs with programs for parental leave, mental health resources, and remote work options.
Ultimately, diversity, inclusion and equity are all essential components of a successful organization. Regardless of the specific industry, having diverse individuals included at work and treated equitably is not just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense. As BCG found after surveying 700 companies of varying sizes and geographies, diverse management teams are more innovative than less diverse teams. Along with diversity, inclusion and equity helps organizations think outside the box and thrive amidst challenges so they can reach their full potential.