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Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Part II

My Workplace Ethics Advice blog this past Monday addressed the issue of sexual harassment at Uber. The harassment case lodged by former engineer, Susan Fowler, was indicative of a workplace that gives lip service to the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. In this blog I will explain the meaning of those terms in the context of a broader, ethical organization environment.

We hear a lot about equity these days. It tends to be thought of as one of three key values necessary in the 21st century workplace. Equity, Diversity and Inclusion loosely means to give each person the same opportunity, accept and respect people from different races, genders, religions, and nationalities, and inviting those who have been historically locked-out of society to come in.

Diversity versus Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are often viewed the same way. However, there are important differences. The U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management indicates that diversity is hiring and retaining employees that “reflect America’s diversity,” while inclusion is making them feel motivated, and a true part of the organization.”

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique, and recognizing our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality. A diverse workforce is one where similarities and differences among employees in terms of different dimensions are molded together to produce the best outcome.

Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that over-rides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion, equality of opportunity as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.

Equality vs. Equity

People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one in the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.   But when we place it next to equity, that’s when the lines get blurred. Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fit a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures. In the workplace it means to provide accommodations as needed.

A good analogy is to think of runners sprinting around an oval track during a competition. EQUITY on TrackThe concept of equality would mean treating runners the same way; having them start at the same place on the track. While this may seem fair at first, we quickly realize that those starting from an inside position have an advantage over runners in the outside lanes because the distance they have to travel is shorter. As a result, equality – starting at the same place – doesn’t result in fairness. The concept of equity would mean the starting positions should be staggered so runners in the outer lanes have an equal chance to win the competition. In this case, different or tailored treatment leads to fairness and justice, not the same treatment. 

The White House Office of Science and Technology developed an action grid in November 2016, that addresses key actions and corresponding sample strategies on how to promote diversity and inclusion in science and technology workforces. Here are some of the recommendations that address ethical issues of fairness, equality and equity.

  • Establish, measure, incentivize, and prioritize performance objectives on diversity and inclusion for all managers and leadership.
  • Enhance strategic plans to include bias mitigation, diversity and inclusion goals and objectives.
  • Conduct deliberate outreach programs to diverse networks to ensure a greater pool of individuals with diverse backgrounds.
  • Use language for job announcements, marketing materials, and applications for professional development programs that is inclusive and encourages all groups to apply.
  • Create repeatable systems for hiring that minimize individual bias and maximize organizational objectives.
  • Err on the side of passing candidates through rather than cutting them in early stages of the application process.
  • Include criteria on equity and inclusion when evaluating proposals from external grantees, contractors, or partners, consistent with applicable legal provisions.
  • Train managers on skills that correlate better managing a diverse workforce such as flexible work policies and conflict training.
  • Develop and support “safe spaces” where individuals from underrepresented backgrounds can find support, build friendships, and be fully themselves.

Former President Barack Obama addressed issues of diversity and inclusion in the preface to the White House Office report, saying:

“Research has shown that diverse groups are more effective at problem solving than homogeneous groups, and policies that promote diversity and inclusion will enhance our ability to draw from the broadest possible pool of talent, solve our toughest challenges, maximize employee engagement and innovation, and lead by example by setting a high standard for providing access to opportunity to all segments of our society.”

President Obama’s words are instructive and seem to reflect more of a millennial view with respect to the importance of diverse groups, connectedness, and problem solving, while, at the same time, recognizing the need to provide equal access to all groups in society so they have an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society.

To conclude, diversity and inclusion are necessary but insufficient to ensure equal opportunity to accomplish one’s goals in life and in the workplace. Individual responsibility and a strong work ethic is needed as well.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 20, 2017. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Visit Steve’s website to find out more about his services and sign up for his newsletter.