A common sense approach to “DE&I”


Unless you are alone on a deserted island or hiding under a rock, you probably hear about DE&I at least several times a day and quite possibly more often than that! DE&I, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is a topic that I want to really understand. As such, I take the time to listen to as many different people as possible with vastly different backgrounds, age, race, gender, etc. in order to get as many different perspectives as possible. One of my goals is to get beyond the complexity and try to make it easier for me to understand and explain DE&I to others.

I had a great opportunity last month to do just that when Yemi Akisanya invited me to participate with 80 senior managers of Groupon in their Senior Management Series. Yemi, a Kellogg EMBA alum and a good friend, is the head of DE&I at Groupon.

Yemi first defined DIVERSITY
Diversity is defined by who we are as individuals and encompasses the range of similarities and differences each colleague brings to the workplace. These include national origin, language, race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identify, sexual orientation, family structures, age, disability, veteran status or socioeconomic status.

Yemi’s definition reminded me of an interesting discussion I had with a Kellogg student several weeks earlier. She shared with me that diversity needs to reach three steps in order to create a values-based organization:

  1. The first step is to include diverse people on the team and give them a SEAT at the table — but it is just the first step.
  2. The second step is to make sure they not only have a seat at the table but that they have the opportunity to have a VOICE at the table.
  3. The third step is to enable everyone to bring his/her WHOLE SELF to the table and not have to dress or act like they need to “fit in” in a certain way.

Yemi then defined INCLUSION:
Inclusion is a working culture and environment in which all colleagues are treated with equity and respect, have equitable access to opportunities and resources, and feel fully engaged and committed to helping the organization achieve its business goals and objectives and purpose.

Finally, Yemi talked about EQUITY. This is often confused with EQUALITY. People can sometimes interpret equality to mean that everyone should have an equal allocation of goods, services, etc. This can lead to misunderstanding and resentment, even leading some people to propose that we should do away with our capitalistic system and institute socialism instead. I am personally convinced that socialism is not the answer. As I often share with my students, my opinion is that although a capitalistic system is far from perfect, no one has come up with a better system in the last
50,000 years, so lets not start all over. LET’S FIGURE OUT HOW TO MAKE THE SYSTEM WORK FOR EVERYONE!!

I loved the way Yemi presented the concept of EQUITY, and I asked him if I could use the image he used in my blog post, so here it is:

Take a look at the three pictures:

  • In the first picture, one can argue that there is equality since both individuals have a similar size ladder. However, if one person cannot reach the tree, is there equity?
  • In the second picture, there is equity because both individuals can reach the tree, but is that the best solution?
  • In the third picture, labeled “remove the barrier,” we challenge ourselves to create an environment where everyone has a chance to thrive. You don’t give handouts that can reduce the motivation to perform, but rather, you encourage and motivate each person to be the best they can be.

At the Groupon meeting, I challenged the senior managers by asking them WHO was responsible for creating the values and overall culture of the institution in which DE&I is an important component rather than a separate topic. I shared with them that in many organizations the answer is often “THOSE GUYS” — some magical group of “other men and women.” However, as most of you know by now, we are all “THOSE GUYS,” and it requires each and every one of us to all a part in creating the values and culture.

On a final note, as I was drafting this blog post with my friend and editor, Khalid Ali, he shared with me that his team at Ecolab adds another letter to DE&I — the letter “B”:

“Our team culture is rooted in Ecolab’s commitment to DE&I – diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Khalid explained. “We believe the best teams are diverse and inclusive. This belief isn’t new, as it reflects our longstanding values of working together with diverse perspectives to challenge ourselves, reach our goals, and do what’s right. However, our Global High Tech team likes to take it one step further by adding a “B” for “Belonging.” This signifies our commitment to cultivating a culture where every team member has a sense of belonging. So, for us, it’s not just DE&I, but DEI&B.”

I think the “B” is an excellent addition!

As always, I look forward to your comments and opinions!

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