Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have increasingly become priority areas for organisations and job-seekers around the world. A LinkedIn survey revealed that over half a million of their members and over one hundred thousand companies created a D&I post by June 2020. But is the DEI conversation still relevant in 2022? This is the question we seek to answer in the conversation below.
We recently spoke with four professionals for whom DEI is an integral part of their jobs. Susanne Nyaga, Duntan West, Ibiyemi Balogun & Juanita Kwarteng shared their insights to the What, Why and How of DEI.
What do Diversity, Equity & Inclusion really mean?
Duntan: Diversity is the presence of difference, equity is about access, while inclusion is recognizing that everyone needs equal access by addressing different needs.
Susanne: You are invited to dinner. You get there, and you note that everyone seated around the table is very different from you. You come to the realisation that you do not need to be of the same identity or have the same experiences as the host to receive an invitation. That is diversity.
Looking at the menu, you notice provision is made for all dietary restrictions including kosher, vegan and halal. You conclude that the host must have asked (and listened) to ensure that everyone is catered for and their peculiar needs taken into consideration. That is inclusion.
You notice the booster which has been made available for the child at the table. You also notice someone in a wheelchair for whom space has been provided at the table. You note that someone with mobility challenges has been handed tongs to serve themselves instead of cutlery as it is easier for them to use this to grab food. This is equity. Each individual has equal access to the food on the table.
The above is a great visual example I heard from Michelle Grocholsky, the Founder & CEO of Empowered EDI.
Why is DEI important?
Juanita: The purpose of DEI is to create an environment where everyone can thrive while being their authentic selves.
Ibiyemi: Organisations need to have diverse people in their workforce because they serve diverse customers.
More than just HR?
Susanne: While the HR approach is the most well-known, there are several ways to approach DEI. Some organisations approach DEI from a marketing or public relations standpoint, focusing on how to ensure the public views their company as a diverse space. If this is achieved but no systemic changes have been made, it can create a false sense of safety for the employees.
Juanita: The Canadian marketplace is mostly centred around the HR approach but in reality it has the capacity to stretch to all areas of an organisation including product development, marketing, sales etc.
Ibiyemi: According to the Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA), federally regulated organisations in Canada are required to have a certain number of diverse people in their workforce and they must share their metrics with shareholders. It’s important that talent strategy for an organisation extends further than just the 5 or 6 line “diversity statement” on their job descriptions.
Susanne: The HR approach can be further fragmented. One part of this approach focuses on the recruitment stage where organisations ensure that they are hiring diverse talent. The problem with stopping at just this phase is that some companies still cater to only one type of identity. Thus, they hire diverse people but struggle to support them, address their needs or retain them.
Juanita: The COVID pandemic and the George Floyd incident of May 2020 acted as mirrors to the systemic failures we have as a society. These incidents were a catalyst to enable organisations to reflect on what they could do to create inclusive workspaces. It was not as if these issues did not exist prior, they just became magnified.
There have been various points in history where society reflects on expectations of diversity and inclusion. The year 2020 presented a real opportunity for change as employers and employees across the globe started to engage more in discussions about racial justice and discrimination.
Leaders seized this moment to consider their roles and opportunities to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at their organisations.
Is DEI only a Western problem?
Ibiyemi: Diversity in DEI is not just about race which is often the first thing people think of. Diversity extends to race, gender, age, abilities, sexual orientation, religion, culture and so on.
Duntan: DEI is different in every region but just as important. Each region has its own peculiarity. For example, racial diversity might be an issue for American companies but may be less of a priority in DEI initiatives for organisations in Nigeria as the country is filled with predominantly black people.
As Africans, culture also plays a role in our biases and thus affects how we treat differently abled people.
What do people misunderstand about DEI?
Juanita: People think that the practice of DEI is only for professionals with DEI as part of their roles. It is however everyone’s responsibility to create a world that works for everyone, and everyone can play a role in creating an inclusive environment.
Ibiyemi: People focus on diversity and not inclusion. But these are very different things. Inclusion is the ability to make people feel like they belong. Diversity is about getting them in through the door. I would argue that inclusion comes before diversity. I know it has been branded as DEI but think of it more as IED. Otherwise you get diverse talent but fail to retain them. This then becomes like a revolving door because if you fail to create an environment where they can survive let alone thrive, they will be in and out in 6 months.
What questions should potential employees ask to ensure DEI is present at a company?
Ibiyemi: You need to talk to other people within the organisation to get a sense of the company’s culture. Someone that does not have a stake in whether or not you get the role.
Questions like: What are your current practices around making sure that the organisation is inclusive for everyone?
Another great question is asking how the organisation has supported their employees (BIPOC, working parents, people suffering with mental health issues etc.) since the pandemic began.
Juanita: Ask about how success and failure are handled by the organisation. It goes a long way in illustrating what the company values and how certain aspects of being an employee within that environment are treated.
What might support look like for marginalised groups?
Juanita: Simply checking in consistently. I think it is important to check in on your team members and employees to gauge how they are doing and to keep lines of communication open.
Having a level of awareness about your privileges and not only being committed to being good. When we label ourselves as good, we think we can never do any wrong and that we could never have any biases. By letting go of labelling ourselves as “good people”, we can create space to learn about our own biases and the impact that they might have on others.
What is to come of DEI in the future?
Susanne: Diverse communities will migrate to spaces that are safer for them since they now have that option. For organisations with spaces that are unsafe for diverse communities, they will see a loss in their labour force. Employees will leave because they no longer feel recognized or heard. This will impact their bottom line.
Ibiyemi: I do not believe the hype of DEI in the workplace is going down anytime soon. Compared to millennials, Gen Z are 74% more likely to grow up around diverse people in their classrooms and on the internet and they are the “future of work”. They also care MORE deeply about diversity, inclusiveness, and sustainability.”
Important takeaways are:
- DEI goes beyond just the recruitment of diverse talent by HR.
- DEI efforts can and should involve everyone and every department in an organisation.
- While some progress has been made there is much more work to be done.