What is DEI?
As a Senior Consultant at Paradigm, I talk to people all the time who have heard of DEI but don’t really know what that is. This is a typical conversation.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Curious Inquirer: I hear the term DEI all the time. At my organization, we even have DEI policies and committees, but I’m not sure what DEI stands for.
Paradigmer: DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but different organizations call it different things: I+D, DEIB (adding Belonging to DEI), and the list goes on. Think of DEI as a blanket term for topics around all the ways to make the workplace fairer for everyone so that everyone can thrive within it.
Curious Inquirer: …for EVERYONE??
Paradigmer: Yep, EVERYONE—regardless of rank, role, race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, social identities, language, age, national origin, socioeconomic status…
Curious Inquirer: Is that even possible? I mean what’s “fair” for one person probably isn’t for someone else, right?
Paradigmer: True. You’re touching on the E in DEI—Equity. If we want to create the best workplace for everyone, we actually can’t treat everyone the exact same way. In fact, treating people equally might be unfair. Equitable treatment, however, is fair. That’s where you make decisions about people at work that account for different backgrounds or different groups. We can’t assume, for instance, that people all start from the same place. Some of us have had more advantages than others. So in the interest of fairness, we have to be mindful of those advantages when allocating resources and granting opportunities at work.
Think about how in American society certain people have access to disabled parking. This is not access given to everyone equally, but we’ve decided as a society that it is fair to account for physical challenges some people might have when accessing facilities. In the interest of fair access, we’ve implemented this unequal – but equitable – practice.
Curious Inquirer: Equity sounds hard to assess, let alone to achieve.
Paradigmer: It is. It’s a lot easier to treat folks equally—you don’t have to think too hard about treating everyone the same. Treating them equitably, however, requires a lot of introspection about our biases, as well as ongoing learning about how advantages and disadvantages show up and affect people’s outcomes at work. It also requires trying out different approaches toward achieving fair treatment and continuously measuring the impact and making adjustments as needed. Equity takes work that’s never really done.
Curious Inquirer: Well, what about achieving diversity—isn’t that easier? Don’t you just make sure you hire people of different genders, races, and ethnicities until you have an organization that doesn’t all look the same?
Paradigmer: Sure, that’s a start, but achieving diversity isn’t just about hiring diverse talent; it’s also about retaining and developing it along the way. Diversity refers to more than marginalized groups like race, ethnicity, and gender. We encourage organizations to think about all kinds of differences that add diversity to their workforce. There’s a difference in body type, ability, and age. And there are differences that you can’t always see, like neurodiversity, religion, veteran status, cultural background, political perspective, and sexual orientation, too.
Curious Inquirer: Why is it so critical to achieve diversity in all these ways? Can’t it be enough to just make sure your team is gender-diverse, age-diverse, or includes underrepresented groups?
Paradigmer: Actually, the data shows that the smartest teams—I’m talking about the ones that make the best decisions—are the ones where diversity cuts in lots of different ways. Think about it – if you belong to an organization that is creating a product or a service for a broad customer base, you want a development team to be made up of people who can anticipate the broad range of needs of that customer base. A truly diverse team with different ideas, new perspectives, lived experiences, and communication styles comes to bear on solving those problems for your customers. With a diverse team and diverse backgrounds, you can get a deep peer review, anticipate problems, and make adjustments to that product or service before you unleash it into the world.
Curious Inquirer: It makes sense, but it’s hard to keep an organization so diverse when you’re trying to make it fair for so many different kinds of people.
Paradigmer: It definitely is a challenge, but the key to hiring, retaining, and developing a diverse workforce is to cultivate that diversity within an inclusive environment.
Curious Inquirer: Ah, the I in DEI.
Paradigmer: Indeed. Our research has found that bringing a diverse group of people into your organization is not enough in and of itself. To reap all the benefits of that diversity, you have to maintain an environment in which employees feel they can be their full selves, be heard, and be fully supported in their growth. We work with organizations to help them create and maintain that inclusive culture.
Curious Inquirer: I think I’m understanding the connection between the D, the E, and the I. They’re all interrelated, aren’t they?
Paradigmer: Yep, think of achieving DEI like maintaining a fruitful garden: The diversity is all the amazing varieties of fruits, vegetables, and life in the garden. The inclusion is the nutrient-rich soil in which that garden grows. And equity is an understanding of the different conditions needed—more sunlight, more shade, less moisture, more fertilizer–for each living thing in that garden to thrive. Gardens need continued maintenance. That’s the work of DEI.
Transforming your workplace culture with DEI initiatives requires expertise. At Paradigm, we offer everything you need to make a positive impact on your organization’s DEI initiatives or work environment. To learn more about our DEI strategy and how your organization can benefit, contact us online today.
April 17, 2023