What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Can Mean for You at Work

By Drs. Sheila Boysen, Lesley Page and Mike Cherry

Events during 2020 have highlighted that we are not as far along at managing our biases as many had hoped. We’ve seen deplorable acts of injustice toward people based on their race, gender, age and nationality. There have been protests and riots, resulting in destruction and chaos. Yet, many are eager to find common pathways to work together more effectively.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) has become a cornerstone for many strategic plans and initiatives as a result of organizational leaders wanting to put their best foot forward – treat people with equity and value inclusion.  DEI is a platform to appreciate and respect the diversity that exists in our country. 

To clarify, diversity is not defined exclusively by race, gender and ethnicity. Diversity and equity also include an appreciation for different ideas, perspectives and points of view as well as what we have in common.  DEI makes sense for many people due to beliefs about fairness, goodness and tolerance.  Did you know that DEI makes good “business sense” too?

According to Fast Company, “diversity has been conclusively shown to promote innovation, drive higher revenue, and improve employee engagement as companies strive to hire, include, and give equal value to employees from all backgrounds and circumstances.” https://www.fastcompany.com/90551669/if-you-want-to-be-more-diverse-and-inclusive-you-need-to-start-with-this

The reason for these positive advantages of DEI is that we are not all the same. We do not look the same nor do we think the same.  When people come together on a team or to tackle a problem at work diverse perspectives add value by offering innovative and creative solutions. In fact, creativity and productivity are commonly associated with diversity on teams (Levi, 2017).

To work together fairly and equitably, we can remember a few important tips to help us appreciate perspectives different from our own:

  1. Listen to learn – pay attention to other people’s ideas and values. Carefully talk together when points of view differ.
  2. Display emotional intelligence – monitor your own reaction and the “message” you send to others about the importance of tolerance and inclusion.
  3. Watch for microaggressions – which can occur when people feel their ideas are not appreciated or their comments are dismissed. Sometimes leaders and teammates do this without even knowing it. Each contribution to a group discussion should be acknowledged and appreciated, even if the idea differs from your own.
  4. Walk a mile – the old adage to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes still rings true today.  When we stop to think about what others have experienced or why someone may react a certain way we can learn to appreciate the different perspective that each person brings to the table.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is not only the right thing to do personally, it is also the right thing to do professionally. Doing so, we can relate better to each other, our workforce and our customers.

Reading a situation or affirming alternate points of view is not easy. This is likely because as humans we perceive situations differently based upon our own experiences and mindset. The “lens” through which we see the world may not be the same as others.

Let’s look at an example to consider how a given scenario may be interpreted.  What do you think is happening here?

Remember, things are not always as they seem.  There are many viable reasons that this car is driving in the opposite direction of other traffic such as not paying attention to street signs, an emergency, an intoxicated or impaired driver, etc. In this case, the driver had recently moved to a country with different rules for driving on each side of the street. What did you think was happening?

Now consider your work teams and groups.

  • What assumptions do you make about what you see?
  • How might this lead to inequality or microaggressions?
  • What can you do to make a difference and bring tolerance and equity to your workplace?

In summary, as you work with others, contribute to a team or console a family in need, it is important that we remember that each person is unique. We each see things through our own lens. Effective leaders and teammates will build inclusion and equity into their words and actions to bring people together rather than pull them apart.

References

Levi, D. (2017). Group dynamics for teams. (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN: 9781483378343.

https://hbr.org/2020/06/do-your-employees-know-why-you-believe-in-diversity?ab=at_articlepage_relatedarticles_horizontal_slot3

https://www.fastcompany.com/90551669/if-you-want-to-be-more-diverse-and-inclusive-you-need-to-start-with-this

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