Unpacking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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The concept of diversity can be understood as the many different dimensions in which people differ. Gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, socio-economic status, traditions, education, age, religious and spiritual beliefs, nationality, ethnicity, experience, physical ability: these are just some of the facets that characterize diversity. The more diverse a group, the more evenly distributed that group is across all these dimensions. In this sense, diversity is, of itself, neither good nor bad: it just reflects a variation across the multiple dimensions that characterize human beings. However, there is a deeper way of understanding diversity, one that makes it special. Diversity creates opportunities for greater mutual understanding of the individual contribution that a person of each background can make by breaking down barriers – typically manifested as preconceptions and bias – and exposing what is special and positive in each and every individual. This richer understanding of diversity sees it as a means to an end: a way of tapping into everyone's potential and using that potential to empower everyone else through mutual respect.

Realizing this makes it easier to understand the concept of equity. In contrast to equality, equity is less concerned with treating everyone equally and more about doing what is necessary to allow each person to make their special individual contribution and to participate just as much as everyone else. Equality is passive; equity is active. It is the act of empowering, the process that leverages the potential latent in diversity. Without equity, the power of diversity cannot be realized.

But even that is not enough to create an environment that is truly open. By themselves, diversity and equity create the necessary conditions but can't guarantee that these conditions will lead to the positive interaction between each person in that environment. This is what inclusion means: that each person feels they belong in that environment and that their place in that environment is valued. It is not enough that they are present and empowered, but that they are visibly, openly, and transparently valued by everyone else. Naturally, this is a reciprocal process and, therefore, it can only be achieved by mutual respect for the perspectives of others. This is the essence of empathy. It necessitates that each individual actively adopts the perspective of others and sees the value in it, irrespective of whether or not she or he agrees with it, at that moment in time. Eventually, exposure to these perspectives brings about a greater and a deeper understanding, and a more harmonious, effective, and fulfilling way of participating in that organization or environment. Inclusion is the psychological prerequisite of mutual empathy that infuses an organization and allows diversity and equity to function effectively in creating a better, richer, more enlightened organization or environment.

The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our ego and live in another’s world.

George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans)