In this original piece, I examine the complexities of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion via the mundane description of a shoe. Through this analogy where I consider then comparisons of diversity to style, equity to comfort, and inclusion to cost, respectfully – I discuss why diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot be mutually exclusive of each other and offer cautionary advice urging readers to never trade comfort for cost or style.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are very much like the characteristics of a shoe. Yes. You read that correctly and yes, I know it may sound far-fetched, but indulge me. Shoes are simple conceptually but are as essential as any other apparel. They serve a number of functions, including but not limited to providing warmth and protection from inclement weather. There is never one size that fits all and even the shoes that fit, may not be the best shoe for us. Not all shoes are created equal. DEI programs are very much the same–multifaceted, specific to the companies that employ them, and range in efficacy.
There are three important characteristics commonly considered when buying any pair of shoes–cost, comfort and style...or chicness (if you’re big on alliteration). Not only do cost, comfort, and style vary in importance to consumers, but they are features that can also be independent of one another. For example, one can have a shoe that is both affordable and stylish, but incredibly uncomfortable. Admittedly, I used to trade comfort for a cute cheap shoe when I was younger. I’ve also spent a lot of money for a certain designer or style and the wellbeing of my feet was secondary (if even considered at all), to how the shoe looked or the attention it might garner. Thankfully as I’ve matured, I’ve grown to make better decisions.
The same should be said for companies when it comes to the implementation of true DEI programs. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not mutually exclusive, yet we continue to observe well-established companies omit equity from their diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs, an oversight with grave implications. To examine this further let’s dig into our shoe analogy, but this time consider the comparisons of diversity to style, equity to comfort, and inclusion to cost, respectfully.
Diversity (Style) - Diversity is a state of heterogeneity where variety may be observed in values and attitudes, skills and abilities, occupation, and personality traits and phenotypic presentation (better known as race, gender and ethnicity). Companies invest a lot of energy and capital into considering the former when hiring, but often at the expense of the latter. Cultural differences appear to draw the short straw and authentically comprehensive diversity is often forgotten in the face of representation from only a few groups. For example, hiring “persons of color” typically refers to minority groups. Yet this frequently recycled classification does not guarantee the presence of African Americans. Style or how diversity looks in many cases, is built on perception rather than fact. Companies have become complacent with the idea that as long as their workforce is not entirely homogenous, their charge in diversity is complete.
Equity (Comfort) - Equity is a term that holds multiple meanings in business. On one end, it is related to one’s interest or value of ownership in a particular enterprise. On another it refers to equal access to opportunities and resources, and justice or the act of being treated fairly–a key principle of humanity and business ethics. Despite the fact that human capital is the greatest resource to any business, corporations too often forget that employees represent the most vulnerable of stakeholders with the greatest share of vested interests. While equity is the most important part of the DEI paradigm, it is frequently abandoned in lieu of inclusion, a critical yet common gaffe. Having a seat at the table is a far cry from enjoying an equitable portion of the meal. Further, when equity is neglected much like with the comfort of a shoe, businesses render themselves susceptible to misalignment, poor posture, and instability.
Inclusion (Cost) - Inclusion is described as the action or state of being integrated within a group or structure. It can be a very costly objective, particularly so in its absence. Explicitly, a lack of inclusion directly correlates to a dearth of diversity in thought and skill sets, a decline in employee engagement, as well as, diminished revenue. Companies most easily assess inclusion via employment applications where candidates who choose to self-classify, acknowledge the particular groups to which they identify, i.e., gender, disability and/or veteran status. Institutions use these metrics to tout inclusive hiring practices. While companies may truthfully check off boxes for acknowledgments from Glassdoor, Bloomberg, and other corporate equality indexes, there are often areas of intersectionality that remain unrecognized or worse, ignored.
The tripartite of diversity, equity, and inclusion is complex, critical, and just as interconnected as other models like the Triple Constraint in project management or the Triple Aim in healthcare. Sure, businesses can have one without the other and often do. However, if I haven’t learned anything else as a woman who loves shoes, I know this much to be true–if the shoe isn’t comfortable, then the style doesn’t matter and the ultimate cost to the welfare of my feet will be far greater than any expenditure, no matter how awesome the sale.
Companies cannot afford to wear cheap shoes, neither as a business practice nor as a social imperative. Quality comes at a price and comfort should never be traded for style. The optics of diversity and inclusion will only go so far. It’s not enough to talk the talk when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Businesses must walk the walk. The road will not be easy, but it is necessary and with the right “shoes”, totally achievable. Your corporate culture is worth it. Your employees deserve it. Your businesses will be better for it.
AUTHOR: KEISHA D. ROBINSON