Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: What’s the Difference?

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Diversity, equity and inclusion are often used interchangeably in HR circles. 

But they’re three very different parts of the organisational culture puzzle (that all intertwine). And tackling them separately can supercharge your organisation’s DE&I efforts.

Read on to find out the crucial differences between diversity, equity and inclusion – and how to improve each one.

Diversity definition

A diverse organisation is made up of people with a wide range of characteristics, such as gender, age, race, sexual orientation, education, and much more.

Simple enough, right? But a common mistake organisation’s make during their DE&I efforts is labelling individuals as “diverse”.  

A team can be diverse, but an individual can’t

When people refer to an individual as “diverse”, that’s usually a euphemism for “minority”. Which reinforces the idea that pale, male, and stale is the default – the polar opposite effect you want your diversity efforts to be having.

Diversity only makes sense when we’re talking about a group, which is either made up of people who are by and large the same or people who run the gamut when it comes to personal characteristics and life experiences. 

So, when you’re implementing diversity initiatives in your organisation, be careful not to fall into the counterproductive trap of labelling individual employees and job candidates as “diverse”. Instead, focus on making sure people of all walks of life have a seat at the table at your organisation as a whole.

Equity definition

Equity is often confused with equality, but they’re very different concepts that lead to very different outcomes. 

Equality means “everyone is treated the same”. Equity is a levelling of the playing field through proportional representation.

Let’s use gender inequality in the workplace as an example. Today, men occupy 80 percent of all seats in the boardroom worldwide, with 17 percent of all boardrooms made up entirely of men. Research shows that if things continue as business-as-usual, women aren’t predicted to take up 50% of board seats worldwide—or in other words, achieve equality—until 2045.

Is that because men are naturally better leaders than women? Absolutely not. There are lots of factors in play—like the fact that women spend 40 percent more time on unpaid work than men worldwide. Take this as an example: during the first month of the first Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK, “women were carrying out, on average, two-thirds more of the childcare duties each day than men”.

That’s where equity comes in.

An equitable organisation accommodates for the fact the deck is stacked against some people, and others have had the luck of the draw on their side when it comes to individual circumstances. 

That might look like flexible working or childcare options for single parents. Or leadership programmes that help address the lack of female and POC representation in senior positions in your organisation, causing a pay gap. Or remote working opportunities for people with a medical condition or childcare responsibilities.

Equitable organisations take all of these things (and more) into account to make sure that everyone has fair access to opportunities in their workplace.

Inclusion definition

Last, but certainly not least, is inclusion. An inclusive workplace is one where every employee feels valued

That means no matter who they are or where they sit in the org chart, every team member feels like they have a voice in your organisation. That their contributions and concerns are given as much weight as the next person’s. And that they’re given equal opportunity – and feel welcome – to contribute.

It’s important to note here that unless each and every one of your employees feels like they’re a valued member of the team, you don’t have an inclusive organisation – no matter how diverse your business is. Which is why you need to think inclusion-first when it comes to your DE&I initiatives.

Why DE&I is important

Striving to make your organisation as diverse, inclusive, and equitable as possible isn’t just the right thing to do. It also supercharges just about every key business driver researchers have thought to study. Here’s just a handful of the benefits of DE&I in the workplace:
  • Inclusive teams outperform their peers by a massive 80%
  • Organisations are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians if they’re in the top quartile for gender diversity – and 35 percent more likely if they’re in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Diverse organisations generate an average of 2.3 times more cash flow per employee.
  • Organisations that embed DE&I into every HR initiative are 8.2x more likely to satisfy and retain their customers.
  • Workplace diversity is an important factor for 76 percent of job seekers and employees, meaning diverse organisations are more likely to be employers of choice.

In short: DE&I impacts everything from innovative thinking throughout your organisation to employee engagement to your business’s bottom line.

Improving DE&I with employee voice

Looking to build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive company culture?

The most powerful tool at your disposal is employee voice – the most effective way to learn what your team is really thinking in real-time.

Here’s the simple six-step process for leveraging employee voice to improve your DE&I:

Step 1: Get a baseline

Take the pulse of where your team thinks you stand with DE&I with a simple survey that lets you quickly and easily measure experiences across different personal characteristics.

(Pssst, Hive’s results segmentation makes gathering people’s personal characteristics in a confidential and compliant way a cinch).

One big red flag to keep an eye out for at this stage: a big chunk of your team not being comfortable with sharing feedback or details of their personal characteristics in your DE&I survey. This is a clear sign that people don’t feel like they can speak up – and that you’ve got a lot of work on your hands to build psychological safety.

Step 2: Analyse the results

Now it’s time to dive into the data and discover whether your employees are having an equitable and inclusive experience. Look at each personal characteristic in term (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), keeping your eyes peeled for any discrepancies in the survey results based on certain characteristics. Spot an imbalance? Checking whether this is being driven by certain teams or departments can provide you with actionable insights straight off the bat.

Step 3: Engage and educate your leaders

No leader or manager wants to think of themself as being complicit in a company culture that’s leaving people feeling excluded. There are certainly some bad actors, but most people aren’t going out of their way to shun others – we’re all just products of the society we’ve been born into, which has left us all with blind spots. 

Which is why your organisation can only improve its DE&I initiatives if your decision makers are all aware of where you’re falling short. So, the next step is engaging leaders and managers with the results of your survey so they know exactly where the problems in your organisation lie. This is a crucial first step in getting them fully onboard with implementing the changes you’ll need to put in place to improve.

Step 4: Create a strategy

Now is the time for change. Work with your organisation’s leaders to create an actionable DE&I strategy that incorporates the suggestions, ideas, and concerns your team flagged in your initial survey. This is the surest way to build a truly inclusive and equitable organisation.

Step 5: Empower your line managers

An effective DE&I strategy is executed from the ground floor of operations, not decreed from on high. Which is why your managers and team leaders arguably play the most important part in making your organisation inclusive and equitable. Encouraging them to take action with their teams and drive positive change will help make sure everyone is seeing the impact that providing their feedback can have.

Step 6: Repeat

DE&I is an ongoing process that needs to be constantly measured and improved. So, once your latest initiative has had time to settle, be sure to check in with your team again to see what difference it’s made.

Grab your copy of the ten key questions for your diversity and inclusion survey below to quickly take the pulse of how your latest DE&I efforts are going and pinpoint exactly where you need to tweak your approach going forward.

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10 Key Questions for Your Next Diversity and Inclusion Survey

Diversity and inclusion is more than just a tick-box exercise these days; thriving organisations know exactly how important it is to create cultures where everyone feels safe and respected.

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