Equity, Diversity, Inclusion in the Workplace
Earlier this month I was asked to give a presentation on “EDI” and I had to ask what it stands for: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. I’ve now realised that this is just the formal terminology for something that has always been important to me: understanding what motivates different people and how to help them be the best they can be. We are all able to recognize the visible differences between each other, but there are many softer and less obvious (sometimes invisible) differences that can get in the way of being our best selves.
Because of our diverse characteristics not everybody starts from the same place. Each of us are born with unique barriers beyond our control, perhaps as simple as our height, weight, or race that uncontrollably influence the ways that we engage with and are perceived by the world. We strive for equality out of an inherent wish to be treated fairly, but this is not just about treating everyone the same. It’s about understanding that sometimes we need to be supported differently because of our diverse needs and barriers.
In the workforce, we attempt to recruit diverse employees using outreach programmes and by training to avoid unconscious bias. When we speak about diversity in this sense, we often focus on ethnicity and gender. But by just focusing on recruiting a visibly diverse workforce, we lose out on the opportunity to foster a rich community that gives meaning to a place of work. This leads to lower productivity and engagement and ultimately we may lose those staff. If we are to retain a diverse workforce, we must have respect for each other and embrace our differences rather than expecting assimilation to specific standards as a bottom line. When we learn to value and appreciate differences, we can all feel supported to achieve our potential.
So what is inclusion? Here is my favourite definition I found while preparing for my presentation:
“A sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best…Work towards inclusion must be active, involves imagining better and understanding that we all have something to contribute. It encompasses people having control over their own support and making their own decisions (personalisation), participation and presence in their own communities” (Keys to Inclusion)
If we are recognised as a good place to work, not only will we attract better employees, but we will retain them: that’s the bottom line. However, if we are truly inclusive we will be so much more than a good organisation. Instead we will be a supportive community where we each feel empowered to share our point of view and understand the synergy that is greater than the sum of the parts.
During the event someone spoke about their initiative to “have a cup of tea” with someone they don’t usually talk to in the office. They were asked to get to know them and learn more about what they do. This is an example of something simple that we can all do to build relationships across teams, projects and organisations. While this act is small, its message has a ripple effect and sets the tone for an inclusive, supportive workplace and beyond.