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EDI in the Workplace

Corporate Culture Makes a Difference

Last week I blogged about whether EDI courses are doing any good in college education. Today, I look at EDI and workplace ethics.

We hear a lot about equity these days. It tends to be thought of as one of three key values necessary in the 21st century workplace. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) loosely means to give each person the same opportunity, accepting people from different races, genders, religions, and nationalities, and inviting those who have been historically locked-out of society to come in. EDI policies can help promote ethical behavior and mitigate cognitive biases that might influence the fair treatment of all people.

Diversity versus Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are often viewed the same way. However, there are important differences. The U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management indicates that diversity is hiring and retaining employees that “reflect America’s diversity,” while inclusion is making them feel motivated, and a true part of the organization.

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and to celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality. A diverse workforce is one where similarities and differences among employees in terms of different dimensions are molded together to produce the best outcome.

Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.

Equality vs. Equity

People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. But when we place it next to equity, that is when the lines get blurred. Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fit a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures in the classroom. In the workplace, it means to provide accommodations as needed.

A good analogy is to think of runners sprinting around an oval track during a competition. The concept of equality would mean treating runners the same way; having them start at the same place on the track. While this may seem fair at first, we quickly realize that those starting from an inside position have an advantage over runners in the outside lanes because the distance they must travel is shorter. As a result, equality – starting at the same place – does not result in fairness. The concept of equity would mean the starting positions should be staggered so runners in the outer lanes have an equal chance to win the competition. In this case, different or tailored treatment leads to fairness and justice, not the same treatment.

Components of EDI Initiatives

Organizations should build a workplace culture that creates a sense of belonging at work is the outcome of three mutually reinforcing attributes. Workers should feel comfortable at work, including being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues. They should feel connected to the people they work with and the teams they are part of. And they should feel that they contribute to meaningful work outcomes—understanding how their unique strengths are helping their teams and organizations achieve common goals.

According to the Deloitte survey, 2020 Global Human Capital Trends, 25 percent of survey respondents identified fostering an environment where workers feel they are treated fairly and can bring their authentic selves to work (feeling comfortable) as the biggest driver of belonging. Thirty-one percent said that having a sense of community and identifying with a defined team (feeling connected) was the biggest driver. And 44 percent reported that feeling aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission, and values and being valued for their individual contributions (feeling their contributions matter) was the biggest driver of belonging at work.

EDI policies are an integral part of ethics because the way we treat people with different demographic characteristics says a lot about the culture of an organization. The underlying principles of fairness and justice provide the foundation for EDI policies. The virtues of caring, kindness, and empathy should drive behavior in an ethical organization that wants to be known as a welcoming and supportive place to work. EDI

EDI and Ethics

According to the Deloitte survey, employee belonging tops the list of the most important issues in 2020. Seventy-two percent of respondents indicated that fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace was important to the success of their organization over the next twelve to eighteen months. 

Why have diversity and inclusion efforts become so important? One answer is, in today’s global business environment, it is common to have a diverse workforce that needs to be managed in ways that recognize equity and fairness in treatment. A diverse workforce poses challenges in the way people of different religions, genders, generations, and other types of diversity blend together to create an ethical corporate culture that values individuals from many walks of life.

The Deloitte survey indicates that 93 percent of respondents believe a sense of belonging drives organizational performance. This coincides with a 2019 survey by Better Up which found that workplace belonging can lead to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in the risk of turnover, and a 75% decrease in the number of employees calling in sick. They also found that one single incidence of a micro-exclusion can result in a 25% reduction in productivity.  Yet, despite the importance of belonging, only 13% of respondents to the Deloitte survey reported being ready to address this issue. Solving diversity challenges is very difficult. Also, trending upward is a focus on eliminating measurable bias from talent processes, including hiring, promotion, performance management, leadership development, succession, and compensation. 

In another survey by Deloitte – the 2017 Inclusion Pulse Survey – it was found that 72 percent of working Americans surveyed would or may consider leaving an organization for one they think is more inclusive. Thirty percent of millennials surveyed say they have already left a job for one with a more inclusive culture.

EDI policies are significantly more important in the 21st century than ever before. One reason is young adults and millennials have grown up in a culture that talks about these issues even though they may be lacking. Deloitte’s 2020 survey reports that diversity and inclusion at the workplace are CEO-level issues, but they continue to be frustrating for many companies. 

Google and Sexual Harassment

Effective EDI policies help to create an ethical culture by valuing the contribution of each individual and treating them as members of a community. The expectations are high for an inclusive environment and the failure to create one can have negative consequences as the survey results indicate. One example of EDI policies at work is sexual harassment. In the past few years, charges of sexual harassment have touched many companies including Google.

On September 28, 2021, it was announced that Google parent company Alphabet had agreed to more than 80 updates and changes to its policies and procedures around sexual harassment as part of an extensive legal settlement. The overhaul results from allegations that executives engaged in sexual harassment activities.

The settlement, which includes $310 million devoted to new EDI policies, comes after a group of shareholders accused the leadership team of mishandling employee complaints about sexual harassment and discrimination. The settlement is the largest such commitment among tech companies, beating Intel’s $300 million diversity pledge it made in 2015.

There is now excuse for companies to fall short of the mark with respect to their EDI policies. They have been dealing with these issues for a long time. To the extent its policies fail to stop sexual harassment, we can assume an ethical culture does not exist and the companies lack ethical leadership.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on April 20, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: