Why DEI: Four Cases for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Often, we may not see why diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) may be important to our trainings. In this article, we’ll briefly define the terms and explore four cases for why these concepts matter to us as trainers.
Why did I choose this tool?
I think we often use certain buzzwords or jargon related to being trainers without pausing to look more deeply into what the words mean. I know that I often feel confused at what people mean when they use the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While there are various ways to define these terms, I liked how Independent Sector (“a coalition of nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs”) defined the concepts of DEI and rationale for why to care about them. I believe that learning about these concepts may require us to see them from a diverse set of perspectives and that this framework may help us begin or continue the journey to understand the variety of ways in which DEI may impact the training environment.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
As a trainer, we work with people from many different backgrounds and communities, often in the same room. These three concepts of DEI give us a perspective through which we can describe the group’s interactions and cohesion. The four cases for leveraging DEI can help us better understand how DEI helps us in the training context. For example, adjusting a few of these levers can help to improve the performance of the group, the learning of the group, the feeling of connectedness and triumph, and many other outcomes and experiences for the participants and trainers. Also, paying attention to these concepts can help us navigate and resolve challenges that may arise on our trainings. Lastly, these concepts are becoming more and more ingrained in the educational and business contexts, and a better understanding of them can help us communicate more clearly and align more closely with those inside and outside of the projects.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are three elements that many organizations are valuing more and more these days. Before we can more deeply incorporate these elements into how we behave as trainers, I think we should take a step back to make sure that we understand what these three terms mean.
There are many ways to define these terms, so I’ve chosen the definitions that resonated most with me, which came 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. While diversity is often used in reference to race, ethnicity, and gender, we embrace a broader definition of diversity that also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance. Our definition also includes diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives, and values. We also recognize that individuals affiliate with multiple 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. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.
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. It’s important to note that while an inclusive group is by definition diverse, a diverse group isn’t always inclusive. Increasingly, recognition of unconscious or ‘implicit bias’ helps organizations to be deliberate about addressing issues of inclusivity.
What is an analogy that might help me understand DEI better?
Let’s say we’re organizing a running competition for our community. In this case, diversity is inviting people from many different races, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, socioeconomic statuses, abilities, etc., to participate in the competition. Equity is realizing that some people will run much faster than others (because they’ve had a lot of training, have expensive shoes, have more physical abilities, etc.) and, so in order to create more fair competition, either giving a head start to the people who are disadvantaged or maybe having a few different races for people of different speed levels. Inclusion is making sure that everyone feels welcomed and is able to participate in the competition—perhaps by having a separate race for people who are in wheelchairs, allowing people to wear a variety of culturally-appropriate running uniforms, and/or providing bathrooms that cater to people of various gender and religious identities.
Why does DEI matter?
While there may be many reasons, I liked how Independent Sector divided the arguments into four main categories:
- The moral or social justice case
- The economic case
- The market case
- The results case
The moral or social justice case
“Each person has value to contribute, and that we must address barriers and historical factors that have led to unfair conditions for marginalized populations.”
Basically, it argues that everyone is a human being with equal self-worth and should be treated as such. It’s about giving opportunities to those that wouldn’t normally have opportunities because of being born into a group that a society has not traditionally celebrated or valued as much as others. It aligns with the UN Declaration of Human Rights and a long philosophical history of wanting fair opportunities and treatment of all human beings. I would say that this is one of the arguments most commonly used for DEI.
The economic case
“Organizations and countries that tap into diverse talent pools are stronger and more efficient.”
A lot of money can be lost when people leave an organization for being unfair or discriminatory, and many others won’t join if that’s the situation. Groups that focus on DEI can attract the best talent across many communities. The overall economy can be more efficient when talent is better allocated. When only certain roles are available to certain groups, it excludes individuals of other groups who may have better skills for those roles.
The market case
“Organizations will better serve their customers if they reflect the diversity of their market base.”
DEI can help groups better understand the needs of their customers and build better relationships with them. Much of our cultural knowledge is tacit and very hard to explain to others. Harry Collins explains in his book, Tacit and Explicit Knowledge, that there are three types of tacit knowledge: relational, somatic, and collective. He says the hardest one to transfer to others through words is the collective tacit knowledge, which is knowledge that is embedded in our social environment. If we hire people who understand that collective tacit knowledge because they’re a part of that community, often they can create products and services that resonate strongly with the customer group that we couldn’t create otherwise.
The results case
“Diverse teams lead to better outputs.”
DEI can actually help the organization or group create much stronger results. Katherine Phillips found that “people in diverse groups work harder, share information more broadly and consider a wider range of views than those of just one race, culture or gender.” She also found that while diverse groups had better outcomes, the people in them believed that they had worse outcomes than the homogeneous groups, probably because “social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems.” So even though sometimes we may not think that it’s leading to stronger outcomes, it often does.
How can I apply these concepts on my trainings?
DEI applies to many aspects of the training environment, such as the training team, the participants, the host organization, the participating organizations, sponsors, dissemination efforts, etc. They really can apply to any group of humans that is involved with the training—how varied is the group of humans, how fair do the interactions seem within the group, and how much are people being included in the activities of the group.
However, I believe two of the main areas are the training team and the participant group.
The training team
Sometimes, whether intentional or not, we create training teams that are very much like us. If we’re men, sometimes we create a team of all men. If we’re from one country, perhaps we choose people from that country or neighboring countries. There’s an old adage that says, “like attracts like.”
So, while we may have a tendency to create teams of people similar to us, it can be very beneficial to create teams of people who differ from us.
- Moral/social justice case
- Some groups of people are given more opportunities to join training teams than others, even if the others would contribute just as well to the training environment. For example, maybe people from rural areas or people without academic credentials are given fewer chances to be trainers. On the training team, we can be more mindful of giving opportunities to people from these and other backgrounds that wouldn’t normally have them, giving them the chance to perform and grow just like everyone else.
- Economic case
- If we’re trying to establish a strong team of trainers, sometimes very talented trainers won’t join the team if they don’t perceive it as being diverse, equitable, and inclusive. For example, maybe someone who has darker skin may not join if they see that everyone on the team has historically had lighter skin. In this way, we could miss out on a trainer who would help our team because they may not think they would feel comfortable or safe on the team.
- If we have a strong team of trainers and some people leave the team because they didn’t feel included, didn’t see the diversity, and/or didn’t think the situation was equitable, then we may struggle to find another trainer to replace that trainer—finding a person to fill a role can be expensive and time consuming. Also, the trainer may warn other trainers not to join the team or publicize through social media how they had a bad experience. On the other hand, if we do it well, this person may encourage more people to join the team, expanding our recruiting capabilities to find even more capable trainers. For example, perhaps a woman trainer leaves a team of mostly men because she believed that the men discriminated against her. She may tell other female trainers that they should not join the team because of what she experienced and make it harder for the team to recruit a new female. If, however, she felt more included on the team than on many other teams, she may strongly encourage female trainers to join.
- Market case
- If we have participants from underprivileged groups, it can help to have people from those groups on the training team. The participants may connect more with this trainer and look to them as a role model. Furthermore, the trainer may be able to open up about the discrimination and other struggles they faced in their journey to become a trainer, creating a space where the participants may open up as well. This could also help the other participants and trainers learn about the struggles that other people face.
- If we have participants from different ethnic backgrounds, it can help to have people of those same backgrounds on the training team. In this way, we are more likely to know of any problems that will arise because of those backgrounds—such as food preferences, holidays, language, and other aspects that may be overlooked by accident. For example, it helped to have a trainer who was Muslim on one of our teams, especially when we had Muslim participants, because he reminded us to consider Islam’s prohibition of pork and alcohol, Ramadan fasting, and setting aside prayer time throughout the day.
- Results case
- If we’re running an activity that requires trainers to do a variety of different activities, it can help to have trainers with different skillsets and identities. For example, sometimes trainings can be emotionally intense, and it can help to have a person who is skilled in facilitating slow reflection exercises. Sometimes having those skills plus having an identity that can relate to the particular participants can help, too—e.g., a woman participant may feel more comfortable opening up emotionally to another woman.
- If we as trainers want to learn from each other, we can learn more if we have things that are different from each other and if those differences are given the space to shine. Just having differences won’t help us learn from the differences—they need to be welcomed and given the opportunity to come forth in a balanced way. For example, on one training that we conducted, three of the four trainers came from a business/consulting background. The fourth trainer had a visual arts background. She ran workshops in a different style, incorporating drawing, colors, and other media, and this perspective helped me and the other trainers learn new ways to lead similar experiences.
The participant group
When choosing participants for a project, sometimes we actively recruit specific people and other times it happens more passively or indirectly through how we market or advertise the training. Similar to choosing the training team, we can have the tendency to find participants who are similar to us, who see the world as we do, and may even look like us. Again, giving a training to a diverse group of participants can bring many unforeseen benefits.
- Moral/social justice case
- Some types of people are rarely given the opportunity to participate in trainings, and if they are, they may not be treated fairly and welcomed into the group. For example, someone in a wheelchair may not be invited to participate, and if they are, they may not feel included if most of the trainings involve people standing up or running around, and if the workshops are held in a place where it takes them three times as long to arrive, they may not perceive it as fair. In these situations, we can try to anticipate the different needs by talking with them beforehand and doing research to plan our activities to try our best to include all of the participants. After all, this person didn’t choose to be in a wheelchair, just as other people don’t choose to be of a certain race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, etc. If we don’t do it well, they may tell others to not participate; however, if we do it well, they may feel so grateful that we put in the extra effort to make sure they were included.
- Economic case
- If we’re trying to organize a training and don’t do DEI well, some of the participants that we want to attend may not attend because they think they won’t feel safe or included in the event. A person who is gay may have heard that the organization doesn’t include gay people very well and be hesitant to join the training, or if they do attend and aren’t feeling included in the group, may confront us during the workshops, causing unforeseen conflict on the project and afterwards. On the other hand, if we have a strong reputation for involving participants of different backgrounds, that person may feel encouraged to apply, feel included in the group, and even invite others to participate in future events.
- If we have a diverse group of participants and some of them leave because they didn’t feel integrated into the group, this can impact future workshops. We had an experience where someone felt outcasted from the group and talked about reporting the training to the funding organization. A person or group of people who don’t believe that the DEI is working well may spread this belief on social media or other public channels, which can damage your reputation and it make it harder to run more trainings. Conversely, if a person or a group of people who don’t normally feel accepted find that your training made them feel integrated into the team, then they may use those same communication channels to spread praise and bring more positive attention to your trainings.
- Market case
- If we’re running a train-the-trainers event, hoping that our participants will go back home and train other people, then if we choose people of only one type, then they will likely train the same type of people back home. By incorporating many different types of participants, we can empower these participants to train a diverse group of people back home. For example, if we only include people who can see, then it may be hard for them to train a group of people who are blind back home. However, if we include a mix of people who can see and those who cannot, then the people who cannot see may learn to better train those like them at home and even the people who can see may learn better at how to train those who cannot.
- Results case
- If we’re trying our best to help the participants learn, one of the best ways to do that is to bring together a diverse group of participants. If almost all of the participants have the same beliefs, behaviors, and expectations when it comes to the learning activities, they may not learn anything new. When we have participants from many different backgrounds, participating openly and evenly, then the many different viewpoints can help each person learn from each other. For example, if we’re running a workshop on conflict resolution, having everyone from the same country may not help people learn too much; however, if participants come from countries that are or have been at war with each other, then people may see the same issues with different perspectives and help each other expand their perspectives on the situation.
In many ways, diversity, equity, and inclusion can make or break our workshops. I outlined four cases for why DEI is important for us as trainers, not just in reducing negative outcomes, but also in increasing positive ones. I’m sure there are many ways to approach DEI, and yet I hope that what I’ve described above helps you to start seeing DEI in a new light, recognizing them as powerful tools to improve the trainings you lead.
- How would you define the word “diversity”?
- How would you define the word “equity”?
- How would you define the word “inclusion”?
- Of the four cases for DEI above, which one is most familiar to you? Which one surprised you the most? Which one seems most compelling to you? Why?
- Have you thought about DEI before as it relates to you as a trainer? As a participant?
- What are some ways in which a lack of DEI has hurt your trainings?
- What are some ways in which DEI has helped your trainings?
- How has this article, in any way, changed the way that you see DEI?
Exercises / how to apply it in everyday life
- Look at your friend group on one of your social media accounts and try to take notes about how diverse the group is, according to some of the categories in the definition above. For example, identify how many people are of different genders, how many people from different nationalities, how many from different religious backgrounds, etc.
- Have a conversation with a friend about a time when they didn’t feel very included in a group.
- Write about a time when you believed you were really different from everyone else in a group and yet they welcomed you and helped you feel as if you were an integral part of the team.
- Observe conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion and try to see for which case the people are arguing. For example, are they wanting more equity and if so, why do they say it’s important?