There’s a lot I could say on the topic of Diversity and Inclusion and its importance in the workplace – and that’s just from my perspective, which in itself is limited by my experiences! But before going into any of that, it’s worth clarifying some terms. Common language aids understanding and provides a solid foundation for change. So what exactly do I mean by diversity, inclusion, and equity? 

What is D&I?  

Diversity is a relational concept, referring to the differences between members of your team and organisation. It can be linked to people’s identities, experiences and worldviews, and can be quantified through demographics. Inclusion is about the sense of belonging that a given person feels within a group. This is related to accessibility, respect, and support – and is a strong factor in maintaining diversity. 

Equity can be described as the link between diversity and inclusion. It’s about ensuring that everyone gets the same opportunities, and requires an acknowledgement that people have different skills and abilities and therefore require different levels of support. This allows everyone to be on equal footing by recognising the various barriers and privileges that are present, and correcting for them.  

Having a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace should be a key objective for any organisation – not just because of the business benefits (of which there are many), but to foster an environment in which employees are able to be at their best.  

Approaching a D&I plan can be a daunting task, especially if your company hasn’t put much work into it before. And it may be tempting to just jump headfirst into making changes. But it’s essential to gain an understanding of the situation you are in first. Everyone has different experiences, and as an individual you cannot possibly know what is best for everyone in your organisation. You need to listen to their perspectives and opinions, and understand the barriers that different people face and how it affects their working life and their interactions with others. It’s not always an easy conversation to have, and it’s one that needs to be ongoing, because there’s always more to be done. 

Celebrating a day or relegating an issue? 

In recent years, there has been a rise in companies and organisations showing their support for various historically marginalised communities. This typically occurs at specific times, such as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, Black History Month in October, and Disability Pride Month in July. And while outwardly showing support for these communities isn’t a bad thing, it is essentially meaningless if it isn’t backed up by real, tangible efforts to support them in their everyday lives.  

I have previously been the only visibly, openly queer person on my team at work, and I remember how excited my manager at the time was when Pride rolled around. He told everyone to come into work wearing their most colourful outfits, handed out rainbow tutus and leis, and plastered the pictures all over social media. I refused to take part. I worked there for 2 years, unable to use the staff toilets if there was anyone else around because the men didn’t want me in the men’s, and the women weren’t comfortable with me using the women’s. Though I was lucky enough not to experience any direct harassment from my team, the whole time I worked for them there wasn’t a single effort made to mitigate the comments I would get from our customers or members of other teams that I came into contact with. And it very clearly showed that they were more upset that I didn’t want to be the face of their Pride celebration than the fact that it was not an inclusive workplace. 

Remember, the reason that these days exist is because the groups in question have been, and still are, subject to both individual and systemic discrimination. Celebrating diversity is great, but you have to put in the work to keep your business inclusive – otherwise there will be no one to celebrate with.