"Different"​ and Its Tainted Relationship with Equity and Inclusion

Image courtesy of Denver Public Schools' Equity and Inclusion Initiative, Denver, CO

Image courtesy of Denver Public Schools' Equity and Inclusion Initiative, Denver, CO

So... I’m at this How Oregon Works event on Workforce Evolution and one of the panel discussions bled into diversity, equity and inclusion. As I listened to the panel talk about inclusive workplaces one word kept coming up: different. To paraphrase: “We are trying to create an inclusive environment that everyone can thrive in regardless of how different they are.”

Why is the word “different” deemed OK when talking about equity and inclusion? Because it's not.

It’s not OK to think you are doing equity work when you’re viewing it as basically making sure “different” people feel OK working for you. You’re not really accepting someone if you’re viewing anyone as “different”. That equates to “not normal”.

How about making your mission simply to create and cultivate an inclusive culture and workplace that embraces everyone? I’m of the mindset that it never helps to view and label your current and potential employees as “other”. It hampers your ability for organizational buy-in. If you're sending the message to your managers, VPs, supervisors and department heads that your initiatives and goals for building an inclusive community are connected to making sure "different" people feel welcome then you're automatically stoking a bias fire in their heads.

I've always viewed true inclusivity and inclusive work cultures as environments that embrace everyone without categorization or caveats. Using the term "different" does both. Let's remove this from the vocabulary and the discussion. Let's build workplaces where all are welcome. Let's cultivate workplaces that trumpet the things that make us all our own people yet collectively better. Let's support eradicating group think because we've created an environment where all viewpoints, all personal and professional experiences, are of equal value san labels.

By labeling citizens that your company has done a poor job of connecting with and elevating as "different" you are creating an environment where POCs, cisgender women, queer citizens and marginalized people do not have the same support as their White cisgender colleagues. Build work cultures that are about giving all employees a home while reflecting the legitimate diversity of the communities your company serves. Then help your non-White identifying employees grow personally and professionally in the same manner as their White cis coworkers.

Forget about "different". Think, "Are we reflecting the community we serve?" Think, "Are we supporting and fostering an environment where everyone is thriving?" And if not? Get to work on repairing this...because it is not overnight work. It's introspective work that forces people and companies to be honest with their track record and support for their employees. But it's worth it. It makes your company smarter and connected.

And it's "different" than what many companies are actually doing right now.