Diversity And Equity And Inclusion: We Must Have All Three! 

HR managers, recruitment officers, CEOs and department heads are hearing and talking more about diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Often, the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion are used interchangeably. However, there are importance differences between these ideas. Each is a key component of building high performance teams and successful, profitable businesses and organizations.

We Need Diversity!

A workplace that fosters diversity is one that reflects all our differences: including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, (dis)ability, gender identity, national origin, socio-economic status, thinking and communication styles, collectively and as individuals. 

Imagine throwing a party and an open door that welcomes the full spectrum of humanity. Imagine further and take a good look at who comes in through the door. Do the people inside reflect the race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, gender identities, abilities, national origins, socio-economic status, and backgrounds of the people outside and among your customers and vendors? Are the people in the room mostly like you; do they have the same way of thinking and communicating; working and seeing the world?

It is a well-established management principal that the best teams are comprised of people who represent a full range of work and personality styles. Many companies use a range of tools to identify personality types and work styles to ensure that their teams contain a mix of extraverts, introverts, integrators, rainmakers, and builders. Others look for the appropriate mix of visionaries and spreadsheet types. 

We know from experience that people with different ways of looking at and solving problems, working together, produce better, more durable solutions. The same is true of diversity. To be successful, organizations and companies must appeal to and work with an ever-expanding marketplace that is increasingly influenced by global trends.

Diversity actively attracts, selects, develops, and retains top talent. Diversity has real benefits. But diversity is not enough.

We Need Equity!

Equity seeks to ensure fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and fairness in access to information and resources by actively challenging bias and discrimination. Equity work can be both internal and external. 

Think back to the party and the open door. Now that you have let everyone in, when you observe the room, does everyone seem to be having a good time? If you are serving food and drink, does everyone have a glass and a plate or do some have two of everything and some have nothing? Are some voices heard more loudly and clearly in the group? Are others huddled in a corner whispering, waiting impatiently to share their stories? Do the people who got there early and ahead of others have all the best seats? Are others who got their invitations late left to stand? Are there some who can’t fully make it into the room at all? 

Equity in the workplace is much like the party. We must be attentive to see whether arbitrary rules; “the way we’ve always done things” and logistical barriers restrict the full participation and access for everyone you have welcomed through your door.

I will never forget my horror when I realized that my colleague Joe was forced to travel blocks to find an accessible restroom because the building in which were meeting did not have even one restroom that could accommodate a wheelchair. We had thought that we had done a good job by making sure the building had an elevator and that people would not be required to climb flights of stairs. But while we were open and wanted to include people with different abilities, our approach to equity failed. We had considered diversity but not equity. We had placed a burden on colleagues who used wheelchairs for mobility that others were not forced to bear. Equity requires us as individuals and HR managers, CEOs and business leaders to think beyond our own personal experiences and needs. It requires us to see the differences among people and imagine the impact of our work environment on their ability to be successful.

One way of determining whether there is equity in your workplace is to see how well and equally the benefits of employment are distributed among your workforces in your company. Are the people getting the promotions; the plum projects; the recognition and visibility; and the best salaries as diverse as the people who came through your door? If not, it is time to examine whether there are traditions, policies and practices that create barriers for some. You might not have to look that hard.  You might only need to talk with and listen to employees. You could learn about their aspirations and what challenges they believe make it difficult to succeed.

More companies are expressing an interest in addressing long-standing challenges to fairness and equity outside their doors as well. They are increasingly using their social media and advertising platforms to promote equality, fairness, and an expanded vision of human rights. Some have used their considerable political influence to advocate for laws and practices that promote, protect, and expand civil rights.

These companies see social injustice as having a real impact on the safety, morale, and success of their employees and ultimately the company. They also know that inequity and inequality limit the pool of talent they can attract. They know that strong, healthy communities provide a loyal base of customers. – And by the way it is the right thing to do.   But Equity is not enough.

We Need Inclusion!

 Inclusion builds a culture of belonging where individuals and groups are given “voice” and room to thrive. They feel welcomed, respected, supported, valued, and included. This inclusive environment takes place only when everyone’s contribution and participation are actively invited and sought.

Inclusion is the difference between the party where everyone is invited but only I, or a select few, control what food and drinks are served; what music will be played and what conversations will be tolerated and a potluck event.

At the potluck, the gathering welcomes all the different tastes and cultures represented. We revel in sharing the different types of music on the playlist and the raucous noise of many voices sharing their stories representing a wide range of accents, languages, and cultures. Everyone understands that they are meant to be at this party and that their presence adds joy to the festivities and the fun of the gathering.

Organizations that focus on inclusion invest time and build in opportunities for employees get to know and appreciate both their similarities and differences. Differences are welcomed and celebrated. Managers model communications and listening skills that minimize misunderstanding due to cultural miscues. Moreover, these companies build and support a common business and organizational culture that expressly embraces, diversity, equity, and inclusion. These companies create safe spaces for people to process and address experiences of exclusion, inequality, and the lack of diversity. These intentional efforts might take the form of informal affinity groups; confidential opportunities to discuss concerns with HR professionals; and reading groups. Efforts to reduce stress and minimize unhealthy competition among employees and increased transparency on how decisions are made within the company also go a long way to create an inclusive work environment.

One simple way of reflecting an inclusive workplace is simply having a work calendar that reflects the breadth of religious and cultural holidays. It is also beneficial to create personnel policies that reflect equitable ways of accommodating differences in religion, family composition and responsibilities, health, and abilities. 

Like diversity and equity, inclusion alone will not create a high-performance team. Inclusion builds on the work of ensuring that a wide variety of employees are welcome, and a tangible commitment to internal justice in the workplace. Speaking of inclusion without the work of diversity and equity is no more than rhetoric that will undermine trust and credibility with employees.

To make a difference in the workplace, you must embrace differences and make differences work for you. A growing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion can mean a growing focus on your bottom line.


  • National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
  • Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  • Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB)

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