Diversity, equity and inclusion have become very prominent concepts in today’s professional and academic environments given the diverse populations in all of these spaces. Clearly defining these concepts is key to creating an inclusive space, but true success of DEI practices revolves around leaders’ understanding of how DEI is perceived and expressed by the populations and subgroups that are represented in their teams and vice versa – an alignment of intent and outcome.
Diversity can be defined as the expansiveness of life experiences captured through dimensions such as race, culture, age, gender, sex, socioeconomic status, religion and lifestyle. Inclusion describes how we create spaces to accommodate such diversity. Equity mediates the relationship between diversity and inclusion to inform how we develop and practice policy.
Organizations often define these three concepts for their employees, yet there are still variances in how these are actually represented in workplace practices. This often stems from the personal value systems of individual leaders that get represented in professional standards and practice. Now, this is not in itself a bad thing – in fact, current literature continues to demonstrate the importance of personal value systems in creating organizational climates and sociocultural norms. This does pose a challenge, however, when ideals and norms surrounding DEI and how those are demonstrated within teams are defined differently by leadership and by team members.
Such discrepancies are very common among heavily diverse teams and whether or not this issue is deemed significant is a reflection of the organizational structure and social climate. Leaders and followers who are progressive and actively work toward creating more inclusive spaces that reflect authentic ideals of DEI position their teams for stronger psychosocial cohesiveness and, ultimately, greater efficiency. People thrive in environments where they feel loved and safe to bring their entire selves to their professional context, not just those pieces that are deemed traditionally appropriate or defined according to traditional and limited perspectives on diversity and inclusion. Psychological safety and perceptions of harmony in teams directly impact job satisfaction and performance.
A reflective approach to organizational leadership processes is the beginning to creating spaces that expand ideals and dimensions of DEI. The breadth of my and your definition of each of these concepts – diversity, equity and inclusion – is limited by our lived experiences. Without this initial awareness, there is no clear foundation for expanding how we conceive DEI, in theory and practice.
Actively seeking to recognize how diversity is perceived and expressed by team members sets the tone for building a shared understanding of diverse practices, which can subsequently inform how leaders create spaces that are truly inclusive and inform equitable policies to support diversity and inclusion. A thriving, diverse team is hinged on the realization that DEI is dynamic, diversely defined. As knowledge continues to evolve, leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their perspectives and practices are also evolving through DEI.
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