Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What Does That Mean?

Do you know the difference between diversity, equity, and inclusion or are you just using DE&I as a buzzword?

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The Current State of Diversity Recruiting

We recently surveyed 150 organizations to learn about the current state of diversity recruiting. After running the survey, we compiled the full results in a recent report that you can download:

The Key Takeaways include:

Graphic showing key takeaways from diversity recruiting survey:

Over 60% of organizations have barely started implementing diversity recruiting initiatives.

Less than 4% of organizations have thorough and detailed diversity recruiting metrics that are actively tracked.

Diverse teams are consistently proven to be the most effective teams in the workforce.

Building the right diversity recruiting strategy involves: auditing your current position, defining your goals, assigning roles and action items, measuring data and performance, and iterating as needed.

The Terms You Need to Know: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Terms often have both a denotation and a connotation. Denotations are the agreed-upon definitions that reside in an impartial resource like a dictionary while connotations are the feelings or associations with that word. When you’re learning how best to utilize new terms, it’s important to know both the denotation and the connotation.


Denotation: Diversity is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. (OED)

Connotation: Ultimately, diversity means difference. Embracing diversity at work means embracing people from different backgrounds (racial, gender, education, skills, etc.). It’s important when you’re beginning your diversity recruiting journey to define what is diverse within your team. If you’re a team of 10 men, it’s time to include some women and non-binary employees. If every person at your company has a Master’s degree, how about reaching out to people who have GEDs or community college credentials?


Denotation: Equity is the quality of being fair and impartial. (OED)

Connotation: In regards to diversity recruiting, “equity” means proportional representation. Equitable treatment at work gives people whatever support they need given their specific needs, rather than giving the exact same treatment to all people. Inclusion


Denotation: Inclusion is the act of being included within a group or structure. (OED)

Connotation: Inclusion’s connotation is very similar to the denotation since the connotation is the act of inviting people into the conversation and the room. 

Misconceptions to Avoid

Thinking “Diversity” Only Means Racial Diversity

Remember that diversity covers a whole slew of differences amongst people. If you want to talk about racial diversity, then use the term racial diversity. If you want to talk about gender diversity, then use the term gender diversity. Like Inc. mentioned, “…you may not feel comfortable talking about the people missing from your organization and defining them by ethnicity, orientation or background. However, it’s important to discuss it in those terms to address the real need to hire more women, veterans, people with physical and mental challenges, and ethnically diverse individuals who have the talent and skills your organization seeks.”

Mixing Up Equity and Equality

Equity and equality are often used interchangeably. In reality, they are two distinctly different ideas. Equality is treating everyone exactly the same and giving access to the same opportunities. Equity means creating proportional representation to those opportunities. (Source)

For example, an employee on your team needs screen-reading software. While you provide it to them, you don’t provide it to the employees who don’t need it. That’s equitable treatment. Equal treatment would be providing that software regardless of need.

Mixing Up Inclusion and Belonging

Belonging takes inclusion a step further. If inclusion is being invited to the table, then belonging is feeling comfortable enough to speak up when you’re at your seat. Contrary to popular belief, having an inclusive environment doesn’t immediately mean that people feel as if they belong.

For many people starting their diversity recruiting journey, it can feel complicated and overwhelming, but if you take the time to educate yourself and learn from your mistakes you’re sure to become a changemaker in no time!

Don't stop now. Keep reading!

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