What is Diversity, Inclusion and Equity?

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Peter Drucker, a legendary management consultant once wrote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is not to suggest that strategy is unimportant. Rather, that an organization with clear and widely employed vision, mission, and values is a more certain path to success.  So, how do diversity, inclusion, and equity programs impact culture?  To better understand this let’s start with some definitions.

  • Culture – (1) the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. (2) the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
  • Diversity – (1) the state of being diverse; variety. (2) the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
  • Ethnicity – (1) the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. (2) An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identify with each other based on shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups such as a common set of traditions, ancestry, language, history, society, culture, nation, religion, or social treatment within their residing area. 
  • Inclusion – (1) the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. (2) the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
  • Equity – (1) the quality of being fair and impartial.

Definition Source: Dictionary.com

Early in my career I was working for a large multi-national recruiting firm.  I worked hard to develop my recruiting skills with my given abilities and drive, as well as the tools and resources afforded me (sometimes the lack thereof) by my employer.  I was not easily fatigued by some of the most difficult searches in my office. Furthermore, I learned how to be resourceful in finding the talent that our clients expected of us.  I moved my way up the ranks and ultimately into a coveted leadership position.  I was thankful that my employer recognized my hard work and was willing to invest in my leadership training. 

The culture at this company could be defined, at the time, as a largely young, white male dominated, fast-growth environment. Given that most of the hiring stemmed from employee referrals, it is not a surprise that (obvious) diversity suffered.  That said, the success and growth of the company was unparalleled in the industry, and even amongst companies outside the staffing and recruiting industry.  This is not to suggest that diversity wasn’t important. Rather, that what was not diverse in the organization was its commitment to working hard and impressing clients with results.

As the company grew and the average tenure declined, the company’s HR team and outside consultants were led to consider how a more diverse workforce could help keep the company on its trajectory.  I recall a leadership training session with a group of about 18 of my peers from across the country.  In one of the sessions, we covered the topic of diversity. 

To stimulate discussion amongst the group we were told a story about a white person (sex not disclosed) sitting in a car at a stop light in Washington, DC.  At the same time, a black man was walking across the crosswalk in front of the stopped car when he heard the sound of locking doors. The person in the crosswalk responded by looking at the car and shaking their head (naturally in disappointment). The HR person leading the discussion was a young, black, female Generalist from the HR team (if that is relevant), whose job was to elicit discussion amongst the group. We were asked, “Why were the doors locked? Was the decision to lock the doors conscious or unconscious? Was race or sex a factor? How about location? Lastly, was the person in the crosswalk justified in being upset?”

I wasn’t sure how this particular example had anything to do with workplace diversity, or the job and results expected of me.  In circa 2000, the terms inclusion and equity weren’t terms that accompanied workplace diversity programs. Suffice it to say, many assumptions were made. However, the truth is, without knowing the personal experiences of either of the characters more intimately we would never truly know the answers to the questions we were attempting to answer.  Some were convinced of their beliefs, while others stood in firm opposition.  If the idea was to get us talking, it definitely worked! 

Having said that, I did not walk away from the experience feeling any more convicted (for or against) the need for diversity in the workplace, or how it was going to help me do my job. It has always been my belief that race is a benign characteristic, not unlike leadership, culture, gender, age, guns, or any number of other descriptors.  By themselves, they are not good or bad.  However, what one chooses to do with them is of considerable consequence.

Title VII, referred to as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin. It later included sexual orientation and gender identity.  I’ve come to recognize that in life, and particularly in business, there is a considerable amount of value placed on physical attributes. Oftentimes unfairly and while little is learned about the person. In a Forbes article entitled “Diversity Confirmed To Boost Innovation And Financial Results”, it is stated that,

“The Wall Street Journal joins an ever-growing list of studies by economists, demographers, and research firms confirming that socially diverse groups are more innovative and productive than homogeneous groups.”

The article goes on to say, “Employee diversity takes multiple forms. There are the commonly considered inborn traits of age, gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. Other types of diversity, however, which one acquires through experience, are also important.”

As recruiters, it is our job to observe the law and to help employers secure the very best talent. Ultimately, it is our goal to help our clients embrace and achieve their vision, mission, and values. As a result, (positive) culture is created, fostered, and improved when organizations adhere to their vision, mission, and core values.  

We applaud companies who strive to build diverse workforces in their attempt to innovate, serve customers, serve society, and help build people up. We caution those who are checking a box simply for the sake of optics. When diversity, inclusion, and equity are not tied to vision, mission, and values then the culture won’t likely be eating anything for breakfast (for very long). We’d suggest that employers with the best diversity, inclusion, and equity programs get to “know” their candidates beyond their resume. Get to know their history, life’s trials, passions, philosophies, motivations, and how they can (and plan to) utilize them to help the company deliver positive results. The only discrimination or bias that can and should be found acceptable, is associated to excellence.