How do you belong? Diving deeper into diversity, equity and inclusion How do you belong? Diving deeper into diversity, equity and inclusion | Jesse Ukkonen

How do you belong? Diving deeper into diversity, equity and inclusion

DEI, DIE, EDI, D&I and so forth. There’s a plethora of abbreviations and definitions regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion when discussing organisational culture and deep rooted reasons why workplaces, well, suck.

What does it all mean?

In a nutshell:

  • Diversity is about the differences and features that people have.
  • Inclusion means that people’s features and differences are valued and seen as a vital part of eg. work culture.
  • Equity is about acknowledging that everyone has different needs, experiences, and opportunities and that these are being supported.

So diversity basically just describes a group of people that are different from each other. It’s also good to distinguish that individual people are not diverse, as this might not be apparent. Referring to a person as “diverse” would only make sense if we were all the same, but frankly we’re not. If a person is said to be “diverse” they might be considered to belong in a non-dominant group, or those with historically less privilege – not cool. I would put that in the bin of microaggressions.

A diverse workplace means that differences exist, that’s cool but not enough! Inclusion takes it forward by asking how everyone can feel valued with or without their differences. It’s a process that evolves. This applies also to understanding the value of a diverse product team and the inclusive design it gives rise to. A diverse team can identify a broader set of end-users and take their features into account. Are you thinking about accessibility? Good, because accessibility, usability, and inclusion are all needed in creating an environment that matches with the people living in it. Furthermore, we also want to create spaces with an equal playing field and fair rules.

“The issue is that not everyone has access to the same opportunities, nor do all start from the same place in this society.”

Equity should not be confused with equality, take this article to illustrate that. It is equal to give everyone the same treatment and opportunities. The issue is that not everyone has access to the same opportunities, nor do all start from the same place in this society. It is equitable to acknowledge that we all have different needs, experiences, and opportunities and we should be committed to address and correct this imbalance. Like inclusion, equity is a process.

Where do we aim then?

One might notice the fact that diversity, equity or inclusion alone won’t save the day. An overemphasis on just one or two can even make things worse as elaborated in this writing by Krys. The diagram below recreated by them illustrates the intersections and differences between inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging quite well.

A venn diagram recreated illustrating the intersections and differences of inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging.

In the intersection of DE & I there is belonging. It’s a sense of everyone feeling empowered to speak up, make a change, and develop the culture. Those who hold the leadership and who represent the dominant social culture are responsible for creating the conditions for belonging – it’s a top-down process. However, everyone is accountable for maintaining a safe space where people can grow.

The concept of belonging can also be seen in the mundane. Let’s take an example: remember when back in the day you might have been the only person attending a meeting remotely (yeah, me neither)? But let’s pretend you do: maybe you didn’t receive all the material that was presented to others in the room? Perhaps you didn’t feel like taking part in the discussion and voicing your concerns as everyone else was talking over you? You didn’t feel like you belonged in that group – you did not have the same opportunities to voice your concerns and opinions as the others sitting in the room physically. There was a lack of access, absence of inclusion and a disregard of equity.

But it’s all so much!

All this is indeed a lot to take in, at least in the beginning. But isn’t it the same when we learn new things and adapt? In my opinion DEI should be treated as a skill that can be improved. One slip-up doesn’t undo previous progress or shouldn’t cancel you as an inconsiderate monster to be thrown in the pit of shame. I’m still learning, you are learning, we all are and it should ever end. The key to support this is to nurture a culture of organisational learning and effectiveness and psychological safety.

There is plenty of information available for self-education, so refrain from reaching out directly to people you know are eg. members of a minority group or in a non-dominant position. It’s your job to educate yourself first.

“Invest the efforts to elevate the people who are disadvantaged, not to fight the ones who already are in power.”

At work we should try to design organisations equitable and inclusive enough that they can neutralize the effects of discrimination. Not everyone can or should be “perfect” individuals. Success should not depend on everyone inside the organisation being 110 % equitable and inclusive. In other words, it can be more productive to focus on the structures, ways of working and other organisational items that support a healthy culture instead of trying to convert the individuals taking a defensive stance (and who often enjoy a dominant position). Consider investing in the efforts to elevate the people who are disadvantaged, not in fighting the ones who already are in power.

I identify myself as a person of color I could point out many situations where the lack of DEI & belonging has been apparent, situations where I have felt excluded. Then again, what would the experiences of a gender nonconforming, black and queer person be? Or a disabled woman with children? People have more than one identity. This is why we need intersectionality to gain a deeper understanding of our fellow human beings and the structures around them.

No talk without the walk

Empty grand gestures without actions and commitment can backfire, as they should. This satirical but painfully insightful piece by Ginny Hogan does a good job of shaking up the white and male-dominated tech scene.

More often than not, big changes take time. That’s why for me the most important steps have been to simply read about the background of DEI from multiple sources, listen to the experiences of different kinds of people and to check my privileges. In addition, it’s important to be an ally when possible, start important discussions and end the discriminating ones.

Achieving belonging through diversity, equity and inclusion requires everyone’s effort. Whether it be self-education, taking it up in your organisation, engaging in a discussion with a friend or just listening to other people, it’s all for the better.

N.B. I am not a professional in the field of DEI. My intent is to share my learnings, observations and thoughts accumulated during my journey and to hopefully support yours.

Listen more: Inclusive by Design event

I organized a virtual event at Qvik where I was joined by professionals representing the intersecting fields of design, anthropology, children’s rights and DEI consultation. Check the recording from YouTube