What Exactly Is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?...

By Karen Armstrong posted 06-25-2019 08:11


Sometimes it feels like understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is complicated. There are lots of similarities, overlap, and of course differences and nuances within those differences. Then, there is the ever-changing terminology. Consequently, it can easier to avoid the subject of DEI unless absolutely necessary.

However, for many of us that “absolutely necessary” point is here. At the very least, a rudimentary understanding of DEI is needed. The need to understand DEI beyond my own personal interest has became a necessity in my field. Since higher education is a field where differences are expected and typically embraced, I decided to learn more about DEI. I began by exploring the definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in relation to higher education professionals and employers. The definitions listed below can be credited to UC Berkeley Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity and the University of Houston’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Diversity: Includes but is not limited to race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, veteran status, education, marital status, language, age, gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, genetic information, and learning styles.

When thinking about diversity it is important to remember the terminology has broadened. Ten years ago,  diversity was equated to racial and ethnic minorities. Years ago, I was required to serve on search committees to represent “diverse stakeholders” because I’m African American. This provided a narrow perspective that didn’t truly embrace my identity or the varied identities of the applicants. Other factors in one’s identity where not considered. Now, factors such as socioeconomic status or gender identity may be considered when referring to diverse populations. With this broadened definition, inclusivity of someone’s varied identifies are considered.

Equity: The guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically under-served and under-represented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist equality in the provision of effective opportunities to all groups.

One example I like to use when explaining equity is The Equal Pay for Women campaign which is based in part on equity, as women have historically been under paid and under represented in executive roles. Many employers are beginning reevaluating their compensation packages to increase the likelihood of comparable benefits and incentives for men and women. For example, Apple evaluates salaries, bonuses, and stock grants to mitigate financial disparities between men and women in their company. These efforts landed them on Glassdoor’s  2018 list, “16 Companies Committed to Equal Pay & Hiring Now.” 

Inclusion: Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power and ensures equal access to opportunities and resources.

Diversity advocate Verna Myers coined the phrase “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” As an an example of inclusion, consider the student encouraged to attend a career fair, only to arrive a learn that she can not meet with certain recruiters because the facility is not fully wheelchair accessible.

These definitions are by no means exhaustive. Rather, they are meant to provide a foundational knowledge in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is also easier to embrace something when you understand it.

Next week: Living, Learning, and Working With a Disability. Read an interview with Juliana Fodera, a college graduate with a disability, who holds a degree in community health and a job at a nonprofit.



06-27-2019 07:53

Thank you Karen - very helpful discussion and definitions.