Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Action

The Many Dimensions of DEI

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion encompasses many layers that are sometimes overlooked. A clear understanding of those nuances and distinctions is key to implementing a DEI plan that’s greater than the sum of its parts and ensures everyone feels they belong.

People’s perceptions about diversity, equity, and inclusion are often centered on race, gender, and sexual orientation, and for good reason: These are critical dimensions of identity, and they often get the most attention when people advocate for equality and inclusion.

But there are other elements of diversity that are important to consider, especially in the workplace.

In employee recruitment, for example, “there’s been a lot said over the years about interviewing individuals to see if they’re a cultural fit,” said Trevor Mitchell, CAE, executive director of American Mensa Ltd. and the Mensa Foundation and chair of ASAE’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group. “But what does that mean? Are we bringing some of our biases—unconscious or not—into saying, ‘We just need someone who fits in with us?’”

Bringing in employees that challenge preconceived notions about who fits in expands the conversation. When organizations include people with distinctive perspectives, these new voices broaden opportunities for innovation and contribute to organizational success. For example, a 2020 McKinsey study found that ethnically and gender diverse companies tend to be more profitable.

Looking at the wide-ranging dimensions of diversity will help organizations be more proactive in solving problems, said Heba Mahmoud, senior manager of diversity at Collective Consulting. Tools like the Diversity Wheel, which examines different levels and elements of diversity, is a good place to start, she said.

But she cautions against overreliance on checklists and a “check the box” mentality. “The key to creating authentic inclusion programs and initiatives is to be as inclusive as possible, and that includes listening to viewpoints that might be against [inclusive practices] and helping them see how they fit into the equation,” said Mahmoud.

A New Balance at Work

The late-pandemic world has introduced a new challenge with DEI implications: the hybrid workplace. As employers bring workers back to their offices—or allow a continuation of remote work—they need to promote equity by making sure people in different job roles have the tools they need to succeed, no matter where they work.

When organizations include people with distinctive perspectives, these new voices broaden opportunities for innovation and contribute to organizational success.

“It’s looking at each individual and what their needs are, as well as the organizational needs and finding the right fit,” Mitchell said. “This is where equity and equality don’t always match.”

For example, some employees might have to be in the office more often than others—management can make those decisions based on what the work requires. This doesn’t mean employees don’t have access to the same opportunities, such as professional development and career advancement, Mitchell said. But because some differences may appear inequitable, employers need creative approaches to workforce management.

“It’s walking a fine line of how we make them feel valued, but also still getting the work we need to be done,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to come up with different solutions that don’t rely on the same previous structure.”

Mensa employees are required to be in the office one day a week. “In my philosophy, it’s always about what it takes to get the job done,” Mitchell said. He describes himself as an extrovert who enjoys face-to-face interactions, while acknowledging that those interactions are not all it takes to work effectively.

“A lot of people hold onto the pandemic like it’s a temporary thing and we’re going to return to the ways things were. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It really gives us an opportunity to make sure we’re really engaging with our employees singularly as well as collectively about really understanding what they need.”

Finding a new balance isn’t easy, but “if we’re not thinking through some of those processes and making those adjustments now, we’re going to have an even harder time in our recruitment efforts because that’s what employees are going to be looking for from their next job.”

Watch Your Language

The multiple dimensions of DEI also require careful use of language. “All the things that make us different and the same is ever-changing,” Mahmoud said.

For example, the terminology related to sexual orientation and gender identity has evolved over time. The plus sign in LGBTQ+ was added because the term represents a continuously evolving community, she noted. And because these concepts and labels tend to be transitional, it’s important to keep the language in your organization’s plans and policies open, inclusive, and transparent, Mahmoud said.

Ultimately, the policies, plans, and language need to work for the people that they’re made for. When you invite people from across the organizations into conversations on these important issues, “it’s not just some select group of people sitting in an ivory tower creating policies and procedures for people without really engaging,” Mahmoud said.

Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

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