When Did We Add the 'Equity' to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

  • April 15, 2020

"Equity: Everyone gets what they need to be successful." - Tiffany Jana & Michael Baran, Subtle Acts of Exclusion

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard people talk about diversity in numerous contexts ranging from interpersonal relationships to organizational development. The bottom line is that we live in a diverse global society, and the sooner we realize the power in that, the sooner we can get to creating an equitable future. To properly face this equitable, inclusive future, we have to know where we've been, which means taking a comprehensive look at the history of the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Diversity: Building a Civil Rights Education

Diversity education started in the 1960s as a way to combat the lingering racial tensions between black, brown, and white people as a result of the civil rights movement, a multiracial coalition made up of African Americans, Latinx and Chicano/a Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. The hope was that diversity education would give a voice to the previously silenced America. Through integrating diversity in American vernacular and curriculum, and demonstrating the lasting importance of diversity, marginalized Americans were finally saying, “We’re here, get used to it.”

Offices and workplaces became the testing ground for how people would come and build together. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allowed for the creation of measures of success for how effectively employers changed their hiring practices to include a greater diversity of candidates. Many companies to this day continue to release diversity data on the composition of their workforce, which is in part reflective of the EEOC’s influence on why diversity in organizations matters. In fact, Fortune's list of top companies to work for in 2018 began to take a sharper focus on diversity data as a leading indicator of what companies can do to land a top spot on the coveted list. The B Corp Movement has embraced a similar Inclusive Economy approach. Diversity data began as a way to communicate the racial composition of companies and industries but has also expanded to gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and other identifiers.

After the installment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, change still happened slowly, as change tends to do in America. But over time, it caught on, specifically with companies who saw opportunities in bringing together a diversity of experiences, thought, and perspectives. Diversity offered companies the opportunity to amplify new voices in management, innovate new products, and ultimately, raise their bottom line. It’s not always the most altruistic reasoning - but it was effective. Martin Davidson, author of The End of Diversity as We Know It, argues for making diversity central to all organizational strategy, saying that, “Diversity related to work tasks—diversity of functions, expertise, or tenure—leads to better team outcomes.”

Diversity was a financial slam dunk, and companies that knew how to leverage it were like Michael Jordan on the 1996 Bulls.

Diversity Metrics Fall Flat without Inclusion

Enter: Inclusion. While many might believe that “Diversity” and “Inclusion” are the same, they are not. Diversity is the act of creating a community comprised of people with varying backgrounds and creeds. Inclusion is finding a way of making sure that all of these people feel fully valued.

Theoretically, your company might be the most diverse in the world. Still, if the company culture is dismissive or exclusionary of the thoughts, struggles, and passions of employees from marginalized communities, the attempt at creating a diverse community might cause more harm than good. In Timothy Clark's The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, he shows that Inclusion Safety, or "species-based acceptance," is indeed the first and arguably most crucial stage to creating a community in which its members feel safe and valued. We are humans, made of flesh and blood - therefore, we must accept each other. Inclusion introduces the idea that the value of humans should not be judged by what we can offer each other but rather by the idea that humans have inherent value simply by existing. It's a concept that is popular in many preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and yet the adults are the ones that seem to struggle the most with accepting differences among people.

If Diversity was a slam dunk, Inclusion was a bounce-pass. We need both working in tandem to win.

There you have it - a comprehensive understanding of Diversity & Inclusion education.

But wait, where did the Equity come from?

And has it always been there?

In recent years, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives are bolstered by the addition of the concept of "Equity." Unlike equality, which focuses on providing equal resources regardless of context, equity focuses on the process of just and fair consideration because of someone's experience or specific social position. Equality is treating everyone the same, whereas equity is about achieving the same benefits, even if it means that everyone receives different, though still just and fair, treatment. For example, when I was growing up, I wasn't a very strong student in math, so I had to take extra tutoring to get on the level of my classmates. I received extra help as a way of making sure that I was equal to other math students at my grade level. In this way, equality is the ideal result, while equity is the means by which we achieve equality.

"But Alex, we're all equal already, right? Doesn't inclusion require us to see ourselves as one and the same?" While this is a sweet and perhaps Disneyfied sentiment, it's just not the case. In truth, all humans are different. We all have components of our identities that are both seen, like race or gender identity, and hidden, like mental health, dis/ability, or sexual orientation. And whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we all come from different backgrounds and hold multiple intersecting identities and biases that show up in our relationships and workplaces.

Research also shows that higher levels of diversity lead to increased conflict and misunderstanding, often because we struggle with accepting and celebrating our differences. Inclusion doesn't mean that we can just pretend those differences don't exist. It means that we can acknowledge and use these differences to create the diverse, equitable, inclusive community that we want to see in the world.

Thus we arrive at the current incarnation of this essential tool that features equal (and equitable) attention on diversity, equity, and inclusion. A single piece of the puzzle missing would create an incomplete picture. Diversity is the chorus of different voices in the conversation. Inclusion is uplifting, validating, and hearing each and every voice. Equity is the manner in which we amplify voices. A slam dunk is a powerful move, but if you can't nail the bounce-pass or play defense, you might find that while dunks may look great, they rarely win games alone.

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