Unpacking Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging

Amy Kesling, ACC
January 8, 2020

Here at Step Up, we understand the importance of using language accurately and thoughtfully in the realm of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. While these terms are often used interchangeably, each holds distinct meaning and nuances. Let's delve into the basic definitions we use, inspired by the University of Houston's comprehensive glossary:

Diversity: This refers to the vast array of identity-based differences among individuals, encompassing aspects like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, and more. It's crucial to remember that diverse doesn't simply translate to "Black or Brown" or any specific marginalized group. A diverse community thrives on a multitude of social and cultural backgrounds, not just numerical representation.

Inclusion: This goes beyond mere presence; it's about actively creating spaces where everyone feels welcome, respected, supported, and valued. An inclusive environment fosters equal access to opportunities and resources, celebrating differences through both words and actions.

Belonging: This profound feeling stems from acceptance, inclusion, and a sense of identity within a group or place. It allows individuals to flourish and contribute their unique perspectives. Conversely, the absence of belonging can lead to disconnection and negative impacts on mental and physical well-being.

Equity: This ensures fair treatment, access, and advancement for all stakeholders, acknowledging historical and ongoing societal barriers that have disadvantaged certain groups. It's not just about equal opportunity, but about actively dismantling barriers and ensuring everyone has what they need to thrive.

Equality versus Equity: While equality focuses on equal distribution of resources and opportunities, equity acknowledges that some groups require additional support due to historical and ongoing systemic inequalities. Think of it this way: imagine long bathroom lines at an event. Equality would provide one restroom each for men and women, regardless of actual usage. However, equity recognizes the longer wait for women and provides more restrooms to address their specific needs.

Captain Willie Brown, a firefighter and CEO, offers a powerful analogy: "Think about the bathroom lines at a crowded event. Equality provides one restroom each, but equity acknowledges the need for more women's restrooms." This example highlights the importance of tailoring solutions to specific needs, ensuring resources reach those who truly need them.

As you embark on your DEI journey, remember the distinct roles of each term. A diversity plan without an inclusion strategy won't foster a thriving environment for new members. Choose your words carefully and implement solutions that address not just representation, but also the needs and experiences of all individuals.

We hope this clarifies the crucial distinctions between these terms! Feel free to reach out to Step Up for further guidance on your DEI journey.