What’s the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion?

men and women around a table

As experts in recruitment, we spend a lot of time looking at issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). DEI is key to having an effective recruitment strategy and an outstanding culture within your organisation, and we want to help you get there. We’ve recently looked at diversity in healthcare, reducing bias during interviews, and the four pillars of DEI.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to having fair and bias-free recruitment and creating a healthy and supportive workplace. Unfortunately, the concepts are so closely linked that it can be challenging to separate and fully understand them.

In this post, we’re going to look at each aspect of DEI in detail, laying the groundwork for you to fit all elements of DEI into your recruitment process and everyday workplace culture. 

What is diversity?

At the most basic level, diversity is anything that makes people different from each other. When we talk about diversity in a workplace context, we are discussing the need to have a wide range of different perspectives within our organisation and at all levels.

Typically, our focus is on the ‘protected characteristics’. These are things that it’s illegal to discriminate against and includes factors such as someone’s age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. However, other factors that aren’t protected characteristics can be included, such as socio-economic status.

In recruitment, we will often refer to a ‘diverse candidate’. This isn’t strictly accurate, but we use the term to refer to candidates whose characteristics are underrepresented among existing staff. 

Having a diverse workforce is good for your organisation, as well as for society in general, as we’ll explain shortly. It’s important to understand just how diverse your teams are and to get curious about why any groups are underrepresented.

What is equity?

Equity is making sure that you offer everyone the support they need to achieve. Everyone has their own background, informing the kind of support they need to excel. Sometimes, this can be straightforward, such as making sure that a ramp gives wheelchair users the same opportunity to access a building.

But it can be more complicated to improve equity. For example, some applicants with strong family support may carry out unpaid internships while others won’t have had access to those opportunities. Evaluating these different candidates can be difficult.

Improving equity can be challenging because you don’t always know what needs a particular candidate or team member might have, and they won’t always realise that support is available. In DEI efforts, communication is essential to improving your performance and ensuring everyone understands what’s on offer.

What is inclusion?

Where diversity and equity apply equally to existing employees and prospective new hires, inclusion is all about how you work with your current team and how they work together.

Improving inclusion isn’t just about paying lip service to the idea that everyone’s welcome in the workplace. It’s about making real efforts to make sure that you’re highlighting all voices and treating all employees with the same degree of respect.

Inclusion can be challenging to measure or assess. After all, the only people who can tell you that your inclusion efforts aren’t working are the very ones whose voices aren’t being heard. It’s also hard to devise a metric for how welcome, included or valued an employee feels.

Despite the difficulties in evaluation, we must get inclusion right. If we don’t, not only are we missing out on the insights of a diverse workforce, but we’re allowing our colleagues and co-workers to operate in an uncomfortable workplace.

Measures to improve inclusion will benefit your whole workforce, creating an optimistic and supportive culture that boosts creativity and productivity.

How do diversity, equity, and inclusion work together to make a more fair workplace?

So far, we’ve talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion as independent concepts. The truth is that they are deeply intertwined, and efforts to improve one will typically impact the other two as well.

Unfortunately, this also means there’s little benefit in focusing on getting one aspect ‘right’ and neglecting the other two. Not only are DEI efforts continuously ongoing, but weaknesses in one area can severely limit the effectiveness of your interventions elsewhere.

Focusing exclusively on improving diversity without considering equity or inclusion means that any progress towards creating a more diverse workforce is short-lived.

With no thought to equity, recruiters conclude that diverse candidates lack the required skills rather than looking for alternative methods to demonstrate those skills. Without an inclusive workplace, diverse hires feel unwelcome and that their contributions aren’t valued. They won’t stay long and with good reason.

This leads organisations to conclude that DEI efforts are a waste of time and money, but they couldn’t be more wrong.

If the effort devoted to each of the three aspects of DEI is balanced, there may only be a modest increase in the number of diverse candidates, but equity efforts mean that they lead to more diverse hires.

As teams become more diverse, equity efforts focus on making sure that all voices are heard, and all staff feel safe and supported. As more team members speak up, productivity and innovation also rise. The workplace becomes a more positive and fair place to work in the process.

The difference DEI makes is substantial. Deloitte found a business performance uplift of 80% when companies made significant efforts across all aspects of DEI.

Six quick tips to improve your DEI strategy 

Having an outstanding DEI strategy isn’t going to happen quickly. It should be a key part of your strategic business decisions. Despite this, there are still a lot of small changes and quick fixes you can make that will have a significant impact.

1. Involve your whole team

You can’t only implement DEI improvements from the top down. All aspects of DEI will benefit from giving team members a voice, but inclusion efforts will fail without the rest of the staff’s support. And team members need to be able to offer a meaningful contribution. Paying lip service to their involvement can do more harm than good.

2. Actively ask for feedback

Talking about DEI issues can be uncomfortable for everyone, but having difficult conversations is part of being an effective leader. Topics such as ethnicity, religion, and gender can feel like no-go areas, so you’ll need to model how to have these conversations safely and respectfully. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you raise those tricky topics in a way that increases trust and helps build the culture you want.

3. Offer training and education around DEI topics

With so many companies offering DEI-focused training, this can be an efficient way to start your DEI efforts. The key to effective training is to ensure that your team understands why the training is essential and what you’re hoping they get out of it. If your team resents the training, it might do more harm than good. Focus your training where it will make the most impact. For example, consider offering unconscious bias training to your recruiters and leadership coaching for line managers with the most direct reports.

4. Make public commitments and hold yourself accountable

This is often part of including your team and opening the conversations, but there are other ways to hold yourself accountable. Consider creating a DEI statement that can be displayed prominently on your organisation’s website or signing up for public DEI movements.

5. Consider DEI across all levels of your organisation

Leaders often focus on DEI efforts when recruiting younger talent. That makes sense because they’re the demographic most concerned with DEI factors when deciding to accept a job. But DEI interventions are actually most effective when aimed at leaders. Having a diverse leadership team has a more significant impact on your organisation than improving diversity at lower levels. It can also have a snowball effect, creating DEI momentum further down the chain. Spreading your DEI efforts across your organisation shows that you want to make real change.

6. Work with partners

Improving DEI within your organisation is a huge task. Trusting partners to run an objective eye over your current situation and offer advice based on their experience and expertise can make all the difference. 

If you’re not sure where to start, get in touch with crooton to chat with one of our recruitment specialists and see whether there are any other quick fixes you can implement straight away. And head to our blog to learn more about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.