October 26, 2021

What is DEIB at Work?

Employee dancing while working from home

Do you remember the first time you heard the acronym “DEIB?” For many people, it was nowhere and suddenly everywhere in the year 2020 as the United States experienced a revitalized effort for civil rights. You see, DEIB is an abbreviation for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And, while many folks are now familiar with the term — that wasn’t always the case.

As with most things, there was a catalyst that sparked the creation and spread of DEIB programs and practices at work, and today we’ll be exploring that journey together to provide you with an introductory understanding of what DEIB is — and what it isn’t.

A Brief History

We can’t really talk about DEIB in the workplace today without first understanding the root of this conversation — civil rights. Specifically, we need to revisit the Civil Rights Movement and the fruits of those labors: The Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (with special emphasis on Title VII for this discussion about work), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. This movement brought new conversations about race and discrimination into the homes of many U.S. citizens, with similar discourse on human rights happening around the world.

The efforts continued as activists, governments, businesses, and everyday citizens began creating a new future in which we could all live and work as equals regardless of our differences. Now, this is a great place to start our exploration of DEIB — diversity.

DEIB Defined

Diversity

Depending on the context, the topic of diversity places a heavy focus on race and gender; however, the actual definition of diversity is much, much broader.

Diversitythe range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.

Although much of the discussion around diversity at work was historically centered around bringing women, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color into the workplace, the scope of diversity continues to grow. It’s well-documented that diversity is great for business. For example, a recent McKinsey study found that racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better and outperform competitors.

However, I’d be willing to wager that you are already familiar with the business case for diversity at work. What many may not know is that it simply isn’t enough to have a list of diversity initiatives on a slide deck to present. Business leaders must be personally invested in these efforts; otherwise, those business benefits may never be realized. Your people, especially your employees, will always know when they’re simply being appeased.

The benefits that come from diversity are lost without the remaining components of DEIB — equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Equity

The Workforce Institute at UKG recent published a new research report titled The Heard and the Heard-Nots. In it, they uncover that employee voices have not been heard equally. In fact, 86% of employees feel people at their workplace are not heard fairly or equally.

One common misstep that happens when we talk about equity is that we confuse it with equality. In the case of employees who are being heard and those who are not, it’s clear that the there is a lack of equality. Equity is how we solve that.

Equitythe notion of having fair and impartial opportunities within an organization or system.

The difference seems subtle, but in practice, equity looks like identifying the unheard voices and giving them the chance to be heard. Then, and only then, can equality be restored. This is exactly why equity has been included in the equation of DEIB. We know that inequalities exist throughout organizations. The path to equality will be paved by equitable workplace programs and practices.

Inclusion

Inclusion: the act of creating an environment where all individuals feel welcomed, supported, and valued.

The textbook definition works well, but for those of you who prefer a good analogy, I think diversity advocate Vernā Myers said it best: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Inviting professionals from diverse backgrounds to join your organization is fantastic, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. What kind of experience will those professionals have as your employees?

Some of the benefits of having a diverse workforce are the differences in thought and perspectives that come with it. However, the value of those thoughts can only be realized when they’re invited into the room, given a seat at the table, and the time to be heard.

As a quick exercise, take a moment to think about three colleagues you go to regularly for input. How many of them are the same gender as you? The same race? A similar age? How diverse is your thought circle, really? This isn’t an exercise in shame; instead, it can serve as your personal call to action. Invite and include ideas from diverse places in your upcoming meetings — I guarantee the innovation you gain will blow you away.

Belonging

Belonginga sense of relatedness connected to a positive relationship or relationships within a group or organization.

As we reach the end of our experience, you might already be able to see how belonging fits into the larger DEIB puzzle. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, in many ways can all be realized as direct byproducts of the programs and practices that support each component. Belonging is different. Belonging can only exist when those the other components of DEIB are done together and done right.

When an employee truly experiences a sense of belonging, they know that whatever makes them diverse is welcomed and celebrated. They understand that if an inequality arose, an equitable solution would be present to restore that balance. Employees who feel that they belong have voices that are welcomed to the table and heard by all.


In a world full of jargon, DEIB is an acronym truly worth knowing. DEIB is not only how we empower organizational success — it’s how we empower people success.

If Diversity is being invited to the party, and Inclusion is being asked to dance, then Belonging is being asked to dance to your favorite song, and Equity is being given the opportunity to host the next party.