By Ming Wu on Sep 27, 2021 5:46:18 AM
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic in recent years, and although more and more companies are understanding the importance of effectively managing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there is still a lot of work to be done. Often, what's holding organizations back is a host of common misconceptions about DEI. Let’s take a look at some of those misconceptions and reveal the truth behind them.
Misconception 1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are all the same thing
Here’s the truth! Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are related but refer to different concepts.
There’s a tendency to group these three terms together and use them interchangeably. While they are all crucial elements of a similar goal, these concepts represent different things. The definitions below will help you understand the differences.
Diversity in the workplace means the presence of differences amongst employees. These differences may be to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, or physical or neurological differences. They may be differences in age, education, and experience, or any number of other ways in which people differ from one another. Diversity is tangible and can be measured.
Equity is about leveling the playfield. It is about offering fair, impartial opportunities in employment, training, promotion, and treatment. It involves creating access when there are obstacles in the way. Equity means being treated fairly, but not necessarily equally. For example, two people might need the same materials in different formats. For example, one employee may be able to listen to a presentation, while another may need captions due to their hearing loss. Providing both employees with the materials in the same format would not be fair. You wouldn’t give two people size 8 shoes if one had size 4 feet, would you?
Inclusion is to do with culture and impact. It is less tangible than diversity and equity and can often be difficult to measure. Inclusion happens when employees feel their differences are embraced and they embrace the differences of their coworkers. They feel valued and are encouraged to speak up and believe their views will be listened to. If you cultivate inclusion in your organization, your diverse teams will be more likely to work seamlessly together, be highly engaged. and produce innovative and profitable results. Diversity and equity can be considered prerequisites to inclusion, but their presence does not guarantee inclusion will follow. Inclusion needs to be cultivated and this takes time and commitment from everyone in the organization.
Misconception 2. DEI is solely the responsibility of the DEI managers
Here’s the truth! DEI is everyone’s responsibility.
Some executives might believe that by hiring DEI managers, their work is done. However, getting serious about DEI means making it everyone’s responsibility, at all levels. DEI is not an annual online training that takes a few minutes to click through. It’s about building an inclusive culture by providing meaningful training and resources and opportunities for open discussion which may, at times, be uncomfortable and require courage and honesty from leaders. It also means everyone needs to be part of the conversation, regardless of whether they are considered senior or junior, and whether they are part of the majority or the minority. Everyone should be encouraged to speak up and share their ideas.
McKinsey reported that ‘CEOs and leaders must articulate a compelling vision, embedded with real accountability for delivery, and cascade down through middle management' in what they called the ‘commit and cascade’ effect. Buy-in from the leadership is essential to the success of a DEI strategy. Signing off and attending meetings about DEI is not enough. Real commitment and leading by example are what make a real difference.
Your organization also needs to get everyone on board. Make sure all employees know about your company's stance on DEI is. Get them involved by forming Employee Resource Groups and task forces for different areas that need work. People will feel more invested if they play a role and have a voice. Involving your workforce will also make the process feel more manageable and you will be able to progress in different areas at the same time.
Misconception 3. DEI only benefits minority groups
Here’s the truth! DEI benefits everyone.
Companies can be reluctant to spend time and resources on DEI because they feel the result will only benefit a small proportion of people, yet extensive research shows that diverse companies are also the most profitable ones. In 2020, McKinsey published a report that showed that ‘the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.’
DEI can boost employee engagement and increase talent retention. An engaged workforce will help your business thrive, as they will be more productive, offer better customer service, and in turn, bring higher shareholder returns. Demonstrating true commitment to DEI can also improve your business reputation. Today's consumers, employees, potential applicants, other businesses, competitors, the media, and the local community are all more likely to respect an organization and feel positive about it if they manifest their values around DEI in everything they do. These are just some of the benefits of investing in DEI.
Misconception 4. DEI is mostly about recruiting employees to diversify the workforce
Here’s the truth! DEI at its best is embedded in all areas of your business.
Recruitment and hiring practices are undeniably part of a good DEI strategy, however, it shouldn’t stop there. Recruiting and diversifying your front-line teams is only the beginning of your DEI journey. To fully embrace it, you need to look at how those teams work together and interact with their co-workers, clients, and partners. You need to look at product design, supply chain, and marketing. Look at all the roles, from junior to the most senior ones –in fact, companies with a more diverse board and executive team tend to see better financial results than those who have less diversity at a senior level. For it to be meaningful, it must be a core value of a business and embedded in all that the company does. Companies should be aware of the benefits of DEI at all levels and in all areas of an organization.
Misconception 5. Addressing DEI issues means opening a can of worms
Here’s the truth! Addressing DEI issues means opening a door of possibilities.
Some organizations actively avoid addressing DEI issues because it raises difficult and uncomfortable questions. Sure thing, DEI may expose areas that need work but, more importantly, it will create opportunities to inject some innovation into your business that can set you apart from your competitors. In many countries, companies need to comply with certain standards of DEI to avoid penalties. However, rather than seeing the need to work on DEI as an obligation or problem to solve, organizations should look at DEI as the key to unlocking opportunities. When people from different backgrounds, with different experiences, bring their unique contributions to the table, together, they can create something that is unique and sometimes unexpected. This is part of the reason why a more diverse team is often a more innovative one.
DEI also creates an opportunity to attract talent and perhaps the future leaders of a business. A study by ZipRecruiter showed that close to 90% of Millennial and Gen X job seekers value workplace diversity when looking for a job. This demographic makes up two-thirds of the workforce in the US and they are the leaders of today and the future. A business that has a solid commitment to DEI is more likely to attract and retain talent that will bring long-term value to a business. Having coworkers like these who already value DEI is also helpful in cultivating inclusion in the workplace.
DEI also creates an opportunity for companies to widen their appeal. Forbes reported that 71% of consumers prefer buying from companies that are aligned with their values. A commitment to DEI improves a brand’s image and attracts the modern consumer who increasingly values diversity, equity, and inclusion in the companies they buy from.
Misconception 6. It’s too late to start our DEI journey
Here’s the truth! It’s never too late.
Some companies feel they are too stuck in their ways to review their approach to DEI and they are no longer able to invest in it. The truth is, it's never too late to start your DEI journey, but don’t get left behind! You can start adapting your organization at any time, but sooner is better than later. Companies who do not address DEI are ‘burying their head in the sand’ and they will underperform compared to those who do take DEI seriously and ultimately will not be able to compete on the same level. In a recent article, Forbes pointed out that ‘as more brands start to effectively cater to the needs of diverse and niche consumers, people are starting to see that they no longer need to just “accept” that they will be ignored or underserved by the brands they want to engage with.’ So, if DEI is not addressed effectively by a brand, the consumer is likely to simply move on.
It may be uncomfortable to acknowledge the current DEI status of your company, but it is crucial to be realistic about where you stand now so you can begin to set goals and look at areas to work on. 2020 was a year that saw many leaders of many companies come forward and admit they needed to improve their knowledge and approach to DEI. This was a time for honesty and vulnerability. It was not about naming and shaming, but about a desire and a need to do better. Many more resources are becoming available and people are helping each other on their journeys. We are seeing that it’s never too late, but now is the time to start.
These are just a handful of common misconceptions about DEI, but they will hopefully prompt us to consider other myths and misconceptions we may have about DEI that might be holding us back. And, more importantly, question whether they are valid or possible to overcome. DEI is a journey that may not seem to have a clear destination, but the impact of having an effective strategy and a real commitment to embed it in all areas of your business is undeniable. We shouldn’t let misconceptions slow our progress because this is a journey of learning. We don’t need to know everything at the beginning. The important thing is that we take those first steps and keep moving forward.
You can read more about how to manage diversity and inclusion in the workplace in our free guide.
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About the author: Ming Wu is a freelance writer specializing in long-form articles and blog posts related to diversity and inclusion and accessibility. She offers specialist knowledge on visual impairment and blindness. Ming writes copy to enhance her clients’ D&I practices and get readers talking. Learn more at ablindinglight.com.