Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Wait, when did the E show up?


Recently in a conversation, someone asked who slid the E between D and I? Good question. When did that “E” show up?

Let’s consider Diversity the lens we are looking through; suddenly, we see variations of nuance and a multitude of possibilities. Diversity of race, gender, thought, religion, backgrounds, both inherent and acquired attributes. With Inclusion being, as one professional put it, not only a seat at the table but also the opportunity to eat at the table and serve the table. Inclusion is being fully integrated at the table.  Equity is the vehicle that transports everyone to the table.

What about that other E?

Remember, when “equality” was enough? You could say, equality was one of the first pit stops we all took on our way to understanding diversity and inclusion in general. As pointed out by Emerald Publishing in their issue on Equality, Diversity, Inclusion, it is important to acknowledge that there are some dichotomies between the reality and rhetoric of equal opportunities, the forms of practitioner and the academic knowledge in the field, scholarly approaches to equal opportunities across disciplines of social sciences and humanities, as well as their use of concepts and methods in order to uncover inequalities, and offer strategies for change towards equality of opportunity, valuing of diversity or pursuit of social inclusion. We had to recognize and be open to the idea of inequality before we could travel further down the road to enlightenment.

However, many of us stopped in the land of equality, and we stayed there. It’s been a respectable platform for many years. Looking around, there are many inequalities to focus on. In his blog, Richard Leong points out that inequality is not a naturally occurring event but can be intentional and often times institutional. He points out, driving equity and justice isn’t about tinkering with systems that just ended up being imbalanced; it’s about dismantling oppressive systems that are working exactly as they were designed. He often tells people, “we are building a world that has never existed before. To achieve justice, we must be open to change that can be deeply radical and transformative.”

As an employer, Premier Talent Partners points out, equality and areas of inequality are still something to consider. It comes into play in the form of more serious applications, including issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, language, and disability, which require you (as an employer) to be deliberately conscious when creating company policies and workflow.

For example, choices like offering gender-neutral restrooms, ensuring interview panels are diverse, providing accessible workspaces, and eliminating discriminatory handbook language requires more intentional thinking. Still, the result is worthwhile: An environment that creates equal access and opportunities for all.

So let’s talk about this other “E.”

While equality is ensuring there is a level playing field for everyone, equity, according to ThoughtCo. refers to the provision of varying levels of support—based on specific needs—to achieve greater fairness of treatment and outcomes.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation goes on to explain, equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

Furthermore, systemic equity is a complex combination of interrelated elements consciously designed to create, support, and sustain social justice. It is a dynamic process that reinforces and replicates equitable ideas, power, resources, strategies, conditions, habits, and outcomes.  An ultimate goal of racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races that results in equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone. All people can achieve their full potential in life, regardless of race, ethnicity, or the community in which they live. A “racial justice” framework can move us from a reactive posture to a more powerful, proactive, and even preventive approach.

Equity in business.

As we stated earlier, equity can be seen as a vehicle that helps a business increase inclusion and belonging within its walls. The programs, learning opportunities, and initiatives a business provides their employees can provide an equitable experience for their diverse workforce.

Some businesses enter this space and make immediate changes without thinking through what true diversity, equity, and inclusion should look like within their walls. Action without intent often yields poor results and sets the business’s DEI strategies back instead of moving forward. Businesses that focus efforts on equity provide employees opportunities to enhance their work experience in many ways.

In Forbes, Jim Link’s article suggests the best way to approach equity in the workplace is to work backward. Start by considering what’s important to your workforce and what equity would look like to them. This ensures you won’t lose sight of your ultimate goal.  Other forms of equity (beyond pay) are considered, like learning and development opportunities and opportunities for growth, success, and promotion. Even parity in the way projects are divvied up and assigned can go a long way to ensuring equity.

Examine all your HR processes through the lens of equity, too: For example, do you offer mentorship programs? Do you provide scholarships for upskilling opportunities and/or cover employees’ costs directly? Do you hold managers accountable for income structures and distributing equitable bonuses? Would establishing an Employee Resource Group (ERG) where employees are offered the space to discuss needs and craft solutions help advance the company’s DEI strategy?

Companies looking at diversity and inclusion within their measurement of success will need to consider how equity factors into their policies and practices because looking and measuring themselves on equality is not enough. By accepting diversity as a lens we look through to create a truly inclusive environment, a company must first accept the ground is not level, and in order to foster equity, procedures must be put in place which promote a culture of equity.


Examples of Equality vs. Equity


Equality Equity
A company provides a training curriculum for all employees based on what is needed for job success. A company provides access to training sessions/programs based on an employee’s individual needs and does not count it against them if they require more training than someone else.
A city has to make budget cuts, so they reduce the budget of their five library branches across the board all equally. A city has to make budget cuts, so they find out which library branches are used the most and which are used the least. They adjust hours and staffing determined on each branch’s usage to make the budget.
A manufacturing company has added new equipment to its floor. The staff is trained on the equipment over a one-hour demonstration. Additional written manuals are provided to each employee. A manufacturing company has added new equipment to its floor. Employees are trained in small groups, and translators are used for non-English speaking staff. Each employee who is using the equipment is then worked with one-on-one to ensure they understand how to use the equipment properly.
Public school has community computer labs which have set hours. Public schools located in lower-income neighborhoods have computer labs with more computers, printers, and longer hours of operation.
A business requires everyone to have a degree for a position. A business requires everyone to have a certain skill set for a position.
 Every year, a company’s executive team is rewarded for exceeding their performance goals with a trip to Nappa that includes a winery tour, golfing at an exclusive resort, with a black-tie event at the end.


Every year, a company’s executive team is rewarded for exceeding their performance goals with cash/bonus incentives, or they are asked how they would like to be rewarded.
Employee onboarding includes a meeting with HR and a one-day orientation for all employees. Employee onboarding includes a “buddy system” where new employees are teamed up for the first month with a veteran staff member.


Additional Resources:

The Problem with that equity vs. equality graphic you’re using. -Paul Kuttner

Race Equity and Inclusion Guide- 7 steps to advance and embed race equity and inclusion in your organization- Annie E Casey Foundation

The differences between equity and equality

Activity: Equity or Equality