“I just don’t get it.” “Why is diversity such a big deal?” These are some of the comments shared with me in confidence from people willing to confess their true thoughts. Many people, especially in this community that is overwhelmingly white conservative Christian, truly cannot wrap their minds around why DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — is “a big deal.”
I am certainly no expert on DEI, nor do I pretend to be. While I have not experienced racial discrimination, I am of a generation that fought for women’s rights at the kitchen table and the conference table, and I still do.
As the leader of an organization that works daily to level the playing field for everyone, I believe in the value of DEI and all that it brings to any business, nonprofit or group of friends. While it might be more comfortable to surround yourself with people whose backgrounds mirror yours and who think just like you do, rarely does it bring growth to a person or organization.
A study by McKinsey & Company revealed that organizations in the top quarter for gender diversity were 25% more likely to outperform their peers, and those in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity were likely to outperform their peers by 36%. Personal and organizational growth is not only necessary to survive, it is critical to thrive. We need the different viewpoints, experiences, thought processes, and skill sets diversity delivers.
While diversity refers to the importance of bringing together people of different backgrounds, cultures, identities and experiences, equity acknowledges that not everyone has the advantage of starting from the same place.
I attended a conference once that provided an eye-opening visual on equity. All of us were asked to stand in a horizontal line at the back of the room. Then we were asked to take one step forward if various scenarios applied to us. These included: coming from a two-parent home, having parents who were high school graduates, additional steps for our parents’ years of post-secondary education, growing up in a home with income above the poverty level, another step forward if our parents’ earnings were middle income, then another step if their earnings exceeded middle income. Steps also were taken for being male and being white.
These are all scenarios which data indicate are advantages for success in life, but each was beyond our personal control. They were simply situations we were born into. The visual was startling as we looked around the room. Some people easily advanced to “the head of the class” through no effort of their own, while a few never left the back row.
When I hear people remark that someone needs to “help herself” or “pull himself up by his bootstraps,” I am reminded of this visual. It takes significantly more effort to advance when someone begins the race at the back of the pack.
During Black History Month and year-round, I encourage you to think about this exercise. Where are you standing, near the front of the class? More importantly, what are you doing to help those who, through no fault of their own, are working hard to forge ahead from the back row? How are you creating an environment — at home or at work — that nurtures diversity, equity, and inclusion so that everyone feels a sense of value and belonging?