What is diversity, equity and inclusion? Key differences and how it impacts business today

In today's episode, we discuss what is diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)? And how does it impact today's businesses. We differentiate between DE&I, explore potential challenges when applying it to the workplace and how your talent acquisition strategy can shape hiring for diversity. Finally look at how DE&I will evolve in the future.

This is part 1 of our 3 part series on diversity, equity and inclusion. Watch or listen to:

Part 2: Modern strategies to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in today's workplace.

Part 3: How corporate social responsibility and diversity in the modern workplace builds better businesses

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Karl Yeh:

Today I'm joined by Janelle St. Omer, Regional Vice President with Benevity and we're going to be talking about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Janelle, I guess let's start at the very beginning. What is diversity, equity, and inclusion? Because I know those terms have been talked about but I really want to make sure we get a good definition of each.

What is diversity, equity and inclusion?

Janelle St. Omer:

Of course, Karl, [00:01:00] and hi everybody. Thank you so much for joining.

I think there's a few things that have happened around diversity, equity, and inclusion. One is that they've been used interchangeably.

Two, that there's been an evolution in the usage of the term.

A lot of companies historically used to focus specifically on diversity and inclusion. Then they started to focus more on inclusion and diversity.

Then there was an evolution to diversity and inclusion and even looking at belonging.

And now over the last, I would say 18 months to two years, more [00:01:30] and more companies are focused on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Key differences

To break some of those terms down DIVERSITY really means the presence of difference within a giving setting like race or gender, sometimes ethnicity, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation.

INCLUSION really addresses people with different identities feeling or being valued within and leverage within a giving setting so think about a team or a workplace or an industry.

When we start to talk about EQUITY, [00:02:00] equity is really the approach to ensure that everybody has access to the same opportunity. In the context of your workplace, how do all of your employees have access to the same levels of attraction, promotion, retention within your company?

And then the last piece around BELONGING it's really actually thinking about the safety and security that you're creating for your employees within the context of your company so actually having individuals feel that they can be accepted, that they can be their true selves within [00:02:30] the context of the workplace, and they can really be whoever it is that they are within the confines of your workplace.

Really looking at how you're helping people to bring their whole selves to work. That's what we tend to think about when we're talking about belonging.

Karl Yeh:

When we're talking about it at the workplace, and we're going to have a future video on this.

But when we're talking about all three or even all four when you include justice, is it more about making sure people feel safe as an individual, as safe as in coming to and being themselves [00:03:00] or is it now moving towards it isn't just about people coming into work and feeling safe.

But is it more about, "Hey, these are some of the things that would be considered as you progress through your career in any organization?"

Janelle St. Omer:

I would say it's a combination of both. I think when you're thinking about it from the company perspective, diversity is a strength.

There's tons of data out there that suggests that companies that have more diverse workforces are more innovative.

That their [00:03:30] teams perform better. That there's more cohesion within those teams.

That they have greater access to a talent pool of individuals within the marketplace as it relates to recruiting for that top talent.

But I think there's one thing to be able to bring someone into your organization and then there's another thing in terms of how long that individual stays within your organization, how they feel whilst they're working there, and even if they do choose to exit your organization, are they exiting under favorable conditions where they feel like they have kind of given the company the best of themselves and now [00:04:00] it's time to move on to a new venture?

Or are they leaving for reasons that perhaps have not been explored in terms of their ability to be their best and highest version of themselves at work because they don't feel like things are fair and equitable.

There absolutely is a safety perspective in terms of employees feeling that level of inclusion and not facing microaggressions or discrimination for whatever reason in terms of being an equity seeking group [00:04:30].

But I think that there's also the company perspective where companies really do need to think about how diversity shows up in their companies as a strength, and why addressing some of the things that typically are very challenging to address.

And perhaps even in some cases, polarizing within a company are actually really important things for them to address

  • like challenging unconscious bias,
  • like eliminating microaggressions,
  • like ensuring that they have a diverse board and senior leadership and mid-level managers
  • and there's diversity at every level within their organization.

Karl Yeh:

Now, do you see some sort of either [00:05:00] challenges or conflicts when you're talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion where there probably is examples where when you're trying to be more diverse.

Maybe it's impacting your equity or maybe when you're trying to be more inclusive, it's impacting your diversity?

Challenges or conflicts between the elements of DE&I?

Janelle St. Omer:

Not quite in the way that you kind of worded the question but I think they all go hand in hand.

When most companies are thinking about their strategy, they should be looking at it through the three lenses of diversity, [00:05:30] equity, and inclusion because it really is a journey of evolution, in essence.

I heard one of our clients say it best.

She said,

The diversity is a fact and inclusion is a choice.

Companies do have the choice as to whether or not they want to foster that culture of inclusion, where their employees do feel like they are a part of something bigger.

They do feel like they can be represented when they look at their various colleagues within their company, that they are feeling that they're represented in the marketing materials of their company, or in their workforce that's client facing.

[00:06:00] That representation really does matter in terms of an employee experience because that allows employees to see that, "Hey, there is room for me to grow within this company and there's opportunities for me to be exactly who it is that I am and contribute to the success of this organization and be treated with respect and the dignity that I deserve within this organization as well and not be subjected to the things that typically a group that might be equity deserving or equity seeking," depending on how you want to coin the phrase, "are typically subjected [00:06:30] to."

So, I don't think that there has to be that tension between diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workplace. They actually all serve to work together.

Potential tension: Focus on specific group at expense of others

Where there is that tension, or there can be that tension, is if there is a particular focus on a group whether that be a racialized group, a group that's focused on sexual orientation, or gender.

If there's a focus on a group, sometimes you can have employees from other groups say, "Well, it's not fair that our company is focusing on that particular group."

But I think the easiest [00:07:00] way to look at is just to really look at the metrics in terms of what's available in the talent pool where your business operates.

If, let's just say, women represent 25% of the talent pool in your local area and your company only has 5% representation of women, then right there is a disconnect in terms of you are not seeking to gather the employees from the talent pool that you have available.

There's a disconnect.

I think when companies are actually looking at their data and their metrics, they're very, very easy [00:07:30] early signs for them to identify where their gaps might be and to fill those gaps.

Because I don't think that any employee should be subjected to working in a company that is particularly homogenous on any one group, because again, diversity is a strength for companies overall, as it impacts the bottom line but at the same time in the war for top talent, you want to have a diverse company that people actually want to work for.

Karl Yeh:

So, Janelle, there's a kind of, I guess, the biggest controversy is about hiring for diversity and inclusion versus hiring for merit or hiring for who's the best qualified for the job.

And let's say employers are looking and, "You know what, we can't find [00:08:30] this particular skill or person who has this experience from this specific from our talent pool and we can't be diverse in our hiring with that specific skillset."

How would you go about answering that?

What if you can't be diverse in your hiring due to lack of specific technical skills?

Janelle St. Omer:

Well, that is a conversation, let's just say, in the diversity, inclusion, and equity circles because I think that a lot of times [00:09:00] companies kind of hide behind that fact saying that there isn't necessarily top candidates from a particular pool of candidates, whether that be, again, based off of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, even neurodiverse candidates.

But I think that there are candidates available in all pools.

There are talented individuals in all spheres and all walks of life. I do feel like it really comes down to a company's talent acquisition strategy.

It's [00:09:30] easy to say, "We can't find talented individuals in X," but my question is, "Well, where are you looking for those individuals?

Have you actually gone out of your way to encourage candidates from those different groups to apply to your company?

Do they know that your company even exists?"

If you're not necessarily creating the talent pipeline or creating the space where you're actively seeking individuals from different groups who might not be aware of your company, then you can't say that you can't find talent [00:10:00] from those particular groups.

A small example, there's been a lot of conversations of late as to how job descriptions are often written, sometimes written in a way that, as an example, a woman might not necessarily apply for a job.

And we actually had one of our women in our tech organization who decided to simply to reword the job description and by doing that, the number of female candidates that she then had for that role grew, I believe it was, by 20% or so.

How broad was your talent acquisition strategy?

I think it's very easy [00:10:30] for us to say that there are no employees in their particular talent pool but my question always comes to, "Well, how hard are you actually working to find them?"

Because it's easy to say that we can't find them but if they don't know about us, if we're only looking in the same five different locations, posting on the same job boards.

We're not reaching out to universities.

We're not building out the talent pipeline in terms of colleges.

We're not working with different diverse associations.

We're not letting our employee [00:11:00] base is actually not reflective of the employee base that we wanted to have where there could be that referral into the company, helping individuals to see themselves in the individuals who are currently working at the company.

I do think that it's not the easiest thing to solve for but it's a bit of a miss for companies to rely on the fact that they can't find talent from a particular area because they can.

They're out there.

Karl Yeh:

In the backdrop, I guess, in the context of today's world and all the things that have happened over the past year, two years, where [00:11:30] do you think diversity, equity and inclusion is moving towards?

I guess let's focus on the workplace.

Where is diversity, equity and inclusion moving towards in the workplace?

Janelle St. Omer:

I think a couple of things on that point.

It's now time for organizations to be more mindful and intentional about their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies.

I think historically, 20, 30 years ago when it really came into the forefront, a lot of companies were focused on hitting a particular number.

They had a quota, " [00:12:00] We needed to have five women on our board.

We need to have five individuals from a visible minority sitting in senior leadership positions."

But again, not necessarily thinking about, "Okay, once you actually brought those individuals on board, what was the experience that they had? How long were they staying with your company? How are they performing when they were at your company? Were they being promoted within your company?"

And I think that now there's collective awakening that individuals have had in the world.

We're thinking differently [00:12:30] about what it means to have a diverse and equitable and inclusive workforce.

This shift that we're seeing right now is no longer about numbers.

It's not about tokenism, as an example.

It's not just about a check mark exercise but it really is about listening and understanding and creating workplaces that are focused on inclusion.

Creating workplaces where people have challenged their biases.

They've gotten to the place where they have a common level of understanding.

They are empathizing with one another to actually [00:13:00] think about how they perhaps are perceived within the workplace or received in the workplace based off of the interactions that they do have. I think right now, it's not going away.

I think it's going to continue to evolve.

Employees, customers, stakeholders all demand businesses to address previously polarizing issues

More and more we're seeing companies even get to the place where they're thinking about corporate social activism or corporate social justice and they're taking a stand on particular issues that we're seeing in society.

I think historically from both a CSR and DE and I perspective, companies [00:13:30] really shied away from tackling or taking a stance on quote, unquote polarizing or controversial topics.

But I think now recognizing that not only do your employees demand it, but your consumers, your external stakeholders are also demanding it.

And in this war for talent in this brand recognition place that we're living in, this access to information time that we're living in, your external stakeholders are looking at what your company is doing.

Now your internal workings and [00:14:00] how your employees are treated, the inner workings of your company is just as important to your external brand positioning as what it is for your internal brand positioning.

I think that we're going to continue to see an evolution in terms of this area. I think we're going to see companies doubling down and really doing the nitty gritty and getting real with the work.

I think we're going to start to see more and more trainings at multiple levels within the company at leadership, in your recruitment, in your talent acquisition, really looking [00:14:30] at the processes and the policies and the procedures that you have and really taking a look at your entire organization to ensure that it is being viewed from a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens because oftentimes we have a set of inner workings to our company when you actually think about what would that mean to somebody who perhaps is equity seeking.

It actually is exclusive as opposed to being inclusive. I think when folks start to look at things from that lens, it will change the way that they manage their company, that they manage [00:15:00] their work.

Okay. This is part one of our discussion on diversity, equity, inclusion. Watch part two here, [00:17:00] as well as this playlist for other corporate social responsibility tips and strategies. Thanks for watching and we'll catch your next episode.



Question of the day

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for you and how has it impacted the business or the company you work for?