Last week, I began asking people what their main challenge with diversity and inclusion was. I am still in the process of asking and gathering answers.
However, one thing appeared quite commonly right from the start. So, I decided to answer that now. I found some people actually struggling to get their head around what these terms diversity, inclusion, equity and equality mean. In this post, I am planning to give a simple explanation.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements”.
Sums it up well. Diversity is numbers. It is the number or percentage of different categories you find in a group. It applies each time you look at a group of items, whether people or of other types. For instance, biodiversity is the number of species found in one ecosystem or one area. The higher the number of species, the more biodiverse the area or ecosystem.
Diversity in a business is how many people of different characteristics there is in the business. Characteristics can be ethnicity, religion, age group, education, gender, sexual orientation and so on.
Diversity in itself is not good or bad. It only gives you numbers. Then, it is all about how you analyse them and what you do with the diversity you have, or don’t have.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, inclusion is “the act of including; the state of being included”.
Won’t get you very far, will it? At least what it shows is that we are away from numbers. With inclusion, we get in the realm of action and goals.
In short, inclusion is how you show how much you care about your diversity. When your organisation is inclusive, it puts in place practices, behaviours and a language that show that everybody is a significant piece of the organisation, valued, heard and more than welcome to contribute their ideas.
Equality and Equity
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, equality is “the quality or state of being equal” and equity is “justice according to natural law or right, especially freedom from bias or favouritism”.
Again, these definitions do not give the clearest idea of how this can be applied.
When thinking of equality and equity, I like to think in terms of a task to be achieved.
Equality focuses more on the beginning of the process, the tools rather than the outcome to be achieved. Equality is “I give you what I think everyone needs to achieve the task”. Everyone is given the same tools, thinking the same tool will achieve the same result. Equality thinks more in terms of averages, that we are similar. In a way, equality doesn’t take diversity fully into account.
Equity focuses on the outcome. Equity is asking “What do you need to achieve this task I want you to carry out.”. Everyone will have different needs. The tools needed and process followed will differ but at the end the task will be done.
You may have come across this image of two persons picking up fruits from a tree. Equality is giving them the same ladder. Unfortunately, on one side of the tree, the fruits hang higher which means that one person cannot reach the fruits. Equity is giving ladders of different heights so that both can reach the fruits.
Behind equality and equity there is fairness. These two concepts revolve around what we think is fair or not. But this a whole different story, for another post.