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DEI Simplified

There is nothing that checks me out of a conversation faster than the unnecessary use of complex words. I’m a seeker of knowledge, but I want simple, bite-sized portions of knowledge. In my own work, I’m committed to sharing information in the same way- simple and straightforward. Today, I offer you my definition of the top five terms you’ll come across as you start your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey! Remember, this is a launching point, and I encourage you to seek out learning opportunities to deepen your knowledge.

LIVED EXPERIENCE is the information your body and brain have gained from the experiences you’ve had in your own life. Every single human has a different lived experience because we are all unique and come from individual life experiences. As a South Asian Canadian, I grew up with a lot of racism targeted at me as the sole brown kid in rooms full of white people. My mom was born and raised in India. As a brown person, she grew up surrounded by other brown people, never experiencing racism due to her brown skin (we will leave colourism for another day). When she moved to Canada in the late ’70s, she experienced racism as a minority for the first time in her 30's. My lived experience with racism is very different from hers, and racism has shaped our lives in different ways.

DIVERSITY is another word for differences. There are so many ways in which people can be different from one another, however, the differences we focus on in DEI work are those protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Act states that in Canada you cannot treat someone differently due to any of the following protected grounds: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended. Diverse workplaces strive to remove barriers that prevent entry to individuals based on these grounds. This is why you’ll often see job postings with specific diversity statements. A quick scan of your office can reveal a lot about the diversity (or lack thereof) in your organization.

EQUITY is ensuring that people have what they need in order to participate fully. Equity is NOT fairness. Fairness implies that everyone gets the same thing, but we know that not everyone needs an accessible washroom, sign language interpreter, taller work station or flexible start times to take care of childcare/dependent drop-offs. We’ve learned that our lived experience gives us diverse needs, and equity addresses those unique needs.

INCLUSION is the way in which we make sure no one is left out. Often in our workplaces, we seek to ‘make’ everyone feel included. Newsflash- you can’t force inclusion. You can only create safe spaces where everyone is invited to come in and join- but ultimately it is up to the individual to participate as much, or as little as they choose. Take team meetings; calling upon the quiet person is unlikely to help them feel included. However, trying to understand the barriers to their participation may help. For most of my life, I was too nervous to speak up for fear of making a mistake. However in teams where my leader embraced mistakes as learning opportunities, and my colleagues supported each other in a positive manner- I flourished. Barriers to inclusion can also include being ignored in meetings due to age, being sidelined due to gender, or being ridiculed for your accent or dialect. Barriers to inclusion aren't always easy to see and require a deeper inquiry.

BELONGING is the experience of being included as your whole self. Early in my career, as a mother of young children, I had a difficult time belonging. I carefully hid my kids’ pictures at my desk and tried hard not to talk about them when I was at work. I wanted so badly to integrate my work and home life – but I knew that there was a strong narrative about the diminished capacity of working mothers. My sense of belonging shifted when I joined an organization where we started meetings with check-ins about our crazy mornings. We openly laughed about daycare drop-off disasters, puppies that wouldn’t sleep all night and blistered feet after a weekend marathon. Organizations cultivate belonging by inviting employees to be their whole selves, all the time.

The art of DEI (yes, it's an art, not a science) lies in understanding the work in its simplest form. Diversity impacts our lived experiences and as humans, we all seek equity and inclusion in order to fully belong in every room we step in.


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