More Than a Race: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) is Ongoing

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Running is a major part of my life and I run daily. Running has several health benefits such as cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and bone density. I run for my physical health, but also for my mental health to relax, reduce stress, decompress, and process my thoughts. On my latest run, I thought about how everyone thinks of DEI as a race, even if they do not say it aloud. Most companies and executives believe that they can hire DEI leaders or do DEI initiatives and then DEI will be accomplished as if it was a checkbox of a long list of monotonous tasks. Unfortunately, this is not how cultural change is impacted or how true equity works.

When we mention the acronym “DEI”, we are discussing the terms “Diversity”, “Equity”, and “Inclusion”. During this article, we will take a deeper dive into what equity actually means. Equity is a concept that has various meanings, but in this context, we will refer to equity in the realm of social justice. In plain language, equity means fairness for all. To take a deeper dive into equity, we have to understand that equity describes fairness and justice in the way people are treated. Fairness means being impartial and just, without discrimination. Justice means giving each person what they deserve or what they need. When we view equity through this lens, we realize that equity means caring for individuals holistically, including all of their identities and perspectives. When we view equity in this way, we can ensure that resources and opportunities are created more fairly, and everyone has the opportunity for success.

Many times, people mistake equity for equality or treat them as synonyms, but they are not. Equity and equality are related, but we must understand that they are two distinct concepts. Equality refers to the idea that every person should be treated the exact same way, regardless of their identities, privilege, or oppression. Equality is a topic that has been pushed for several decades as a way of treating people because not all people were treated the same and marginalized individuals were discriminated against due to their identities. Equality was pushed to mediate this, but equality is not enough to counter this mistreatment. Equity is vastly different and refers to the idea that people are treated based on their individual circumstances to truly achieve fairness and justice. Equity means giving people what they need to be successful. To descriptively illustrate equality and equity in action, if you picture two people of different heights attempting to look over a fence, equality would mean giving both of them the same size box and expecting both of them to view over the fence.

With equality, we give people the exact same resources and expect the same results, but we must understand that we do not all come from the same exact starting point and disadvantages exist. To exemplify equity, the shorter individual would get a taller box and the taller person would get a shorter box. In doing this, both individuals could achieve the goal of viewing over the fence. Equity is giving people what they need to truly be successful. Unfortunately, many people are viewing environments and treating people with an equality mindset instead of an equity mindset. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are working to create an equity-minded environment.

To us, an equity-minded workplace is an environment where all employees are treated fairly, and individual differences are acknowledged and celebrated. We are practicing this in a variety of ways, such as in our initiatives, identifying bias, building diverse teams, developing more equitable practices, providing opportunities for professional development, and transparently communicating. An example of an initiative we have started is sending an email including details about diverse holidays and observances at the beginning of each month. This allows all people to feel recognized, and it also allows people to gain new exposure and opportunities to learn about diverse events. We are actively identifying bias in policies and educating people at Monthly Diversity Discussions. Understanding our own identities increases self-awareness, assists with developing empathy, and allows us to gain compassion toward ourselves and people who have different identities than what we do.

The Human Development Institute is having a better understanding of the diversity within our team by promoting opportunities to reflect on our identities and by finding new ways to appeal to a wider range of candidates by building more inclusive job descriptions. More equitable practices are being developed by giving employees the resources they need and empowering them to access opportunities. Professional development opportunities are consistently created and shared with employees to build skills. Equitable communication is practiced through transparency. Communication is shared in a variety of ways such as emails, during ¾ office hours that are held monthly, and formally through performance evaluations. These are a few examples of how the Human Development Institute is creating a more equity-minded environment throughout our community. The equity-minded initiatives were not created instantaneously but have been managed over time with great colleagues.

Some people compare DEI to a sprint where we can do a ton of quick initiatives and it will be resolved quickly. Other people take a slower approach and treat DEI like a marathon where they take a more steady approach over time in hopes of one day being finished. This is a more reasonable thought process, but unfortunately, this way of thinking is not right either. We cannot think of DEI as a sprint, half marathon, or marathon. We cannot think of DEI as a race we can finish. DEI is ongoing, steady action. DEI cannot be sped through, and DEI is more than one person’s responsibility. It takes a whole team to change an environment into an equitable inclusive culture for all. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are not treating DEI as a race. We are practicing DEI universally to promote a sustainable, equity-minded work environment where DEI is foundational and ongoing for us to truly impact social justice and accessibility

This article represents the opinions of the author and interviewee, not that of the University of Kentucky.