Have you noticed the term “DE&I” bandied about lately by politicians, business leaders and heads of institutions? If you’re “woke,” then you know it stands for “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” What does that really mean? In the context of government or business policies, it basically represents treating everyone equally, regardless of social standing, race, sexual preference or any other distinguishing characteristic. Think of it as a three-legged stool that broadly applies to welcoming in people of less-privileged identities. Here are definitions of each of the three legs from Independent Sector:
Diversity “includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another,” including identity markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and more. It also takes intersectional diversity into account, when people’s identity is made of a number of underrepresented identities.
Equity is “the fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. Improving equity involves increasing justice and fairness within the procedures and processes of institutions or systems, as well as in their distribution of resources.”
Inclusion is “the act of creating environments in which any individual or group can be and feel welcomed, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all people.”
Sadly, it seems that awareness of DE&I is a recent occurrence. It’s only now, because of the compelling roles played by such movements as “MeToo” and “Black Lives Matter,” that our society has reawakened to issues of inequality that have been festering for decades. Thankfully, many Americans are finally realizing that there really are significant inequities in our society, made even more vivid due to the pandemic. The fact is, the old saying is still true in our country: “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”
As a Boomer, I have to wonder where American leaders have been for the last fifty-plus years. Wasn’t it our generation that helped fight for DE&I in the Sixties? Didn’t many of us protest, march, sit in, get jailed and even die in support of civil rights, racial and gender equality and social justice? Yet, those Boomers in positions of power today, struck by a serious case of amnesia, boast about their commitment to DE&I like it’s something new.
Don’t get me wrong — I for one am heartened to see that DE&I is very much in vogue right now. Despite the current movement to restrict voting rights in several states (thereby disenfranchising America's most under-served populations), it’s particularly encouraging to see the recent recognition of societal inequity by the federal government. Still, I truly hope that people in power are not merely paying lip service to DE&I in an effort to trade on its PR value. They need to understand the depth of its meaning and make a real commitment to fundamental change.