Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 101

As we embark on our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) journey together, it is important to speak the same language. DEI means different things to different people based on their experiences in life and their exposure to this important concept. Our goal as an organization is to create a culture where everyone can be themselves, and where everyone is welcome and open to contribute their skills and experiences. 

On the surface, we know Diversity is about differences; Equity is about providing equal access; and Inclusion is about fostering a sense of value and empowerment in employees.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what DEI really means in our organization. 

Diversity encompasses the many different aspects of an individual’s culture, lifestyle and perspective on the world. It includes gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, mental ability, national origin and religious affiliation. Diversity also includes life experiences. Did your parents get divorced when you were young? Are you a veteran, a college graduate or a high school dropout? An individual’s socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, relationship status, personal interests and political beliefs also influence their decision making. 

Diversity defines the who and the what of people. No two individuals are the same. Each of these characteristics can be important in forming attitudes, feelings and viewpoints that are needed for an organization to be successful. 

There are times when you will share the same elements of diversity as others, and there will be times you will have completely different elements. No one will ever be the same exact you. All the components of your authentic self will interact together in your lived experiences. By upholding a shared understanding that we all have our unique experiences, we also can relate to and learn from others.

In an organization, diversity is referring to the makeup of the workforce. It includes all the elements mentioned above, as well as distinctions such as employee or manager status, rate of pay, salaried versus hourly employees, the physical location where you work, or any designation assigned to your position.

Like Diversity, Inclusion has many definitions. As the saying goes, “diversity is inviting people to the dance, but inclusion is inviting people to dance.” 

Within an organization, inclusion is the approach or design of creating a working environment that draws on and appreciates the talents, skills and perspectives of every single employee. 

So how does inclusion differ from diversity? Let me give you an example: Diversity is saying we have an equal number of men and women within a company. However, there are no female managers in leadership positions, or women are not a part of the decision-making group within the organization. The company can say it is diverse, but cannot say it is inclusive.

Inclusion enhances employee engagement and innovation, creates a sense of belonging, improves the employee experience for everyone, fosters innovation and improves leadership skills. An inclusive culture is essential for employee retainment, but also for recruiting the type of talent an organization needs to succeed and reach its goals. 

Then there’s Equity. Understand that equity and equality are different. Equity is focused on providing equal access to opportunities and resources, as well as focusing on the organizational processes, systems and structure that created inequality in the first place. Equity is a condition that’s established when every single individual in the workplace has the specific support they need to succeed and grow.

Equality is attained when all individuals in the workforce feel empowered to share their contributions because they know the organization’s leadership team values them equally. 

As individuals and as an organization, we must understand that we are all on a journey to understand and live the DEI principles. It is going to be rewarding, exciting and even scary – but I promise you we can do it if we all work together. There are so many things we can do on a day-to-day basis that demonstrates an appreciation for diversity, promotes equity and exemplifies inclusion.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference – taking an interest in other cultures, practicing curiosity with compassion related to different views and perspectives, taking the time to ask someone how to correctly pronounce their uncommon name, or speaking slowly to help a nonnative English speaker understand the conversation. These little actions will make a big difference and lasting impression. The more we practice these things, the better we will become. 

And one more thing, don’t forget to always smile and say hi! 

Alexies Samonte, M.D., MBA, FAAP (She/Her)
Vice President
Sponsoring Institution Diversity, Equity and Inclusion