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Defining DE&I

By. Kara McKiernan

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has become the talk of workplaces and beyond in recent years as employees have come to expect their employers to spearhead social change.

The way DE&I is handled (or not) in the workplace often comes as a result of the broader state of society. In the wake of the race-related social justice movements in the summer of 2020, Estee Lauder, among many other large companies, pledged to hire more people of color at all levels. As women still struggle for equality in so many roles, AT&T has created one of the largest female-centric employee resource groups (ERGs) that seeks to develop talent and expose women to positions of influence and leadership. Further, software giant Adobe supports LGBTQ employees internally with adoption assistance and gender reassignment benefits, among other initiatives.

Despite the evolution of DE&I as a pillar of the modern workplace, the terms diversity, equity and inclusion have come to be used interchangeably, yet they all carry unique meanings. Let's define each term using the Merriam-Webster dictionary and apply each to the workplace:

Diversity: "the condition of having or being composed of differing elements…especially the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization"

Recruiters and hiring managers should prioritize bringing in diverse talent in all areas and levels, from entry levels to the C-suite. In doing so, it's important to remember that diversity isn't limited only to what meets the eye. It can encompass race, gender, sexual, orientation, religion, and more intangible assets like thought and experience. Diversity is especially critical in the realm of communications because companies must be able to reach their stakeholders and target audiences in authentic ways, which isn't completely possible without a group of diverse minds behind the company's external communications.


Equity: "justice according to natural law or right"

At the most basic level, equity means everyone should be treated equally in the workplace. All employees should be met with respect and empathy, meaning there should be policies in place to prevent harassment or discrimination of any kind. Diversity and equity go hand-in-hand because equity creates a culture of fairness and ensures employees' diverse qualities are protected and celebrated in the workplace.


Inclusion: "the state of being included; the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)"

While equity sets the stage for fair treatment, inclusion goes one step further by ensuring everyone feels valued and like they have a place in the office and on their team(s). ERGs are a great way to practice inclusion in the workplace, as they serve as safe and intentional spaces for open dialogue and education. Many ERGs are created for specific groups of people, such as women or Black employees, but they're often open to members outside their respective communities to participate. Being inclusive means being an ally to others, which often means companies must make a concerted effort to provide resources and opportunities to all of their diverse workforces.


Understanding each component of DE&I individually creates more opportunities for employees and employers to bolster efforts within their own workplaces. Learn more by visiting the PRSA and PRSSA's DE&I guidance.

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