One of the ways that diversity training can help organizations move along the diversity, equity and inclusion journey is to help employees understand what these terms and concepts mean, why they’re important, and how they affect behavior and decisions at every level in the organization.
While language is always evolving, here are 10 key diversity and inclusion terms that employees should know and understand.
A diverse workplace comprises a mix of people with different characteristics and backgrounds, including race, religion, age, gender, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and diversity of thought. Research shows that a diverse workforce brings fresh ideas and perspectives to solving problems and identifying new opportunities.
Inclusion is closely related to diversity, but it’s not the same. If diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance — or asked to join the party planning committee. An inclusive workplace promotes a sense of belonging and makes it a priority to include people with different backgrounds, ideas and identities in the organization’s operations and leadership.
Equity in the workplace refers to fair treatment in access, opportunity and advancement for all individuals. Achieving workplace equity involves identifying and eliminating barriers, from the team level through systemic changes.
4. Racial Equity
The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change defines racial equity as when a person is no more or less likely to experience society’s benefits or burdens just because of the color of their skin. Racial equity holds society to a higher standard, demanding we pay attention not just to individual-level discrimination, but to overall social outcomes, including policies and practices.
Racism is a system of advantage based on race that operates on multiple levels to support or perpetuate racist ideas, behavior and policies. The critical element in understanding racism is understanding its impact. Racism takes several forms: individual, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Institutional racism involves unfair policies, biased practices and discriminatory treatment of people based on race that results in inequitable outcomes.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines race discrimination as treating someone unfavorably because they are of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race, such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features. Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion. Race/color discrimination is illegal in all aspects of employment.
Microaggressions are slights, indignities, insults and put downs that marginalized groups experience daily. Microaggressions may appear to be harmless or even a compliment, but they contain demeaning hidden messages, which often stem from unconscious biases. Whether verbal or nonverbal, microaggressions communicate hostile, negative or derogatory messages that reaffirm a stereotype that members of a particular group are the same.
7. Unconscious Bias
Everyone has biases — unconscious, implicit or explicit — it’s how the human brain operates. Unconscious or implicit bias occurs when individuals make judgments— either favorable or unfavorable — about people without being aware of it. These stereotypes or preconceived opinions about people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability or other factors undermine diversity and inclusion efforts and can lead to discrimination. When individuals learn how to recognize their personal biases, and take time to self-reflect, they can get past their initial judgments and reduce the risk of having biases influence workplace decisions and interactions.
Empathy is the ability to connect with others — to listen, think and imagine how a person may be experiencing the world. Expressing empathy in the workplace doesn’t mean agreeing with someone. It’s making the effort to understand what others may be going through. Empathy is a skill that is especially needed during this time of a global pandemic and social unrest, when many people feel stressed, isolated and alone.
A good workplace ally is someone who is willing to speak up, stand up and take meaningful action to support a member of a marginalized group. Allies provide friendship and assistance by reaching out to make sure underrepresented employees know they’re being heard, valued, and supported.
10. Cultural Competency and Sensitivity
Cultural or intercultural competency is the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. Hand-in-hand with cultural competency is being sensitive to the differences and comfort levels of others.
As part of ongoing conversations, education and training on diversity, equity and inclusion, providing clear definitions of DEI terms and concepts — with regular updates — can help increase employees’ understanding of these complex issues and the behaviors and actions needed to create a more equitable workplace culture for everyone.