What is equality, diversity and inclusion?


A working environment that fosters inclusion, equality and diversity has many benefits and, in many ways, can help organisations reach their full potential. Researchers have demonstrated several advantages associated with efforts to promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace. ACAS summarises them as follows:

Before any business can leverage the power of EDI, however, they need to understand what each concept means and appreciate how equality, diversity and inclusion are separate but interlinked issues that require different workplace considerations. Below, we provide a summary explanation of each concept before interrogating the interconnectedness of EDI in the following section.

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Equality

Equality means equal rights and opportunities are afforded to all: there is no reason why one person should have poorer life chances than another. At work we often talk about providing equal opportunity, which extends this description to include efforts to guarantee equal job opportunities for a range of people, and that a degree of fairness is incorporated into the job application process.

Internally, too, organisations must aspire to treat people fairly and with dignity and respect, while seeking to challenge discrimination and remove any barriers that prevent certain disadvantaged employees from achieving their career aspirations. Closing the gender pay gap is a good example of this in action.

The Equality Act 2010 outlines various protected characteristics where prejudicial attitudes can create disadvantages within employment. Often employers remove the need to disclose personal information related to the following characteristics on application forms, to avoid discrimination entering into the recruitment process.

Equality applies to employees as much as employers. Workers can also face consequences if they use discriminatory language or behaviour in their jobs. The Equality Act 2010 encapsulates the tenets of equality by making it a legal requirement for organisations and individuals to treat all protected groups the same and without judgment during all stages of employment. 

Diversity

Diversity implies recognising, respecting and valuing differences. Within the context of work, differences are traditionally associated with protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act 2010. Targeted recruitment and initiatives aimed at attracting a wider talent pool are key ways in which organisations seek to embrace diversity and create more diverse cultures.

Today the concept of diversity has expanded. While surface-level diversity describes an appreciation for differences across demographic areas, deep-level diversity acknowledges less immediately observable characteristics such as political beliefs, family, organisational role, communication skills, income, appearance and work experience as representative of difference.

Moving away from categorical differences to celebrating individual differences is considered a more ethical approach to diversity. Organisations that acknowledge an infinity of diversity and welcome people from diverse backgrounds, as well as include a diversity of thinking, skills and experience in their workforces, are more likely to reap the benefits of a creative and innovative culture.   

Inclusion

Inclusion is how we describe efforts to create an environment where everyone feels accepted and valued. A diverse culture won’t necessarily be inclusive. Inclusion in the workplace only occurs when people are satisfied that their differences and perspectives are respected. This is evident in their level of engagement and willingness to interact, connect and collaborate with colleagues. 

An inclusive culture facilitates collaboration amongst a diverse range of people. Values alignment is always important, but no one should feel a need to conform in any way to enjoy a sense of belonging. Rather, everyone should feel safe at work and encouraged to contribute their unique and authentic voice to new ideas, have influence and effect change.

Establishing an environment that allows uniqueness and authenticity to thrive is only possible when people become aware of their unconscious biases. If employees acknowledge their preconceived views and tacit prejudices, they can then work towards eliminating them. Inclusion should develop naturally once this process is underway.