By Katrin Friesen
di-ver-si-ty (noun): The state of being diverse; variety.
eq-ui-ty (noun): The quality of being fair and impartial.
in-clu-sion (noun): The action or state of including or of being included within a group or
(Definitions from Oxford Languages)
Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DE&I, three words that have recently been grouped together and used to designate any role or initiative that aims to strengthen exactly what they define. However, being a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization takes much more than simply labeling a committee, creating a position or titling a plan using the words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion.”
DE&I is awareness, education, advocation and overall commitment to the responsibility of being a diverse, equitable and inclusive individual within an organization.
To briefly recap this year in terms of DE&I, rewind seven months ago to May. The world was three-plus months into the coronavirus pandemic, which kept everyone at home with nothing to do but learn how to bake bread and scroll through the internet. On May 25, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed while in Minneapolis police custody. The whole incident was captured on video and shared on every social media platform. People were outraged by the event, and it brought light to the race issues still very prevalent in our country. Quickly, those full of anger put companies’ social responsibility under a microscope.
Some were prepared and chose to make a strong stance. Ben & Jerry’s, the beloved ice cream company known for its creative and delicious flavors, tweeted a thread on June 5 that drew attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this was not the first time Ben & Jerry’s had been bold in terms of its advocacy efforts. The company publicly stated its support for the BLM movement back in 2016 and continuously posts updates on its website about all the issues it advocates for like climate justice and LGBTQ equality. Ben & Jerry’s is a company clearly devoted to DE&I and did not have to prove itself to its constituents; if anything, its efforts were acknowledged and celebrated by those not already familiar with its social mission.
Other organizations were not prepared for the pressure, though, and it showed. They hastily released poorly-written statements of “support” or announced a donation of an undisclosed amount to a group actually taking charge against issues of race in our nation. These posts often did not address the changes that need to be made within the organization.
Perhaps those companies caught in the crossfires of the heated environment created by Floyd’s death deserve some grace. Economically, businesses were trying to figure out how to make ends meet and losing any followers would not have been helpful, so they did what they thought was right. However, people were not asking for condolences or prayers; people were (and still are) asking for organizations to listen, learn and act on issues, such as systemic racism, that are prevalent not only to their target publics but to all of society as well.
While support of any kind is always needed and appreciated by those who are either affected by or provide aid to those affected by societal issues, what leaders must learn through all of this is: An organization must be something before it can show it. And if there is one thing that is known as a PR professional, it is to have a plan. That plan may start with a post or *meaningful* personal statement, but the work does not end there; it only begins.
So what should DE&I mean in a plan?
Diversity. The people who are a part of an organization should come from all various backgrounds of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and overall thoughts and beliefs. Having a diverse community internally will reflect externally, gaining more awareness of the company’s efforts.
Equity. Every person who works for a company should have the same opportunities as everyone else and be respected for their unique impact within it. As well, everyone who uses its goods and services should have an equal opportunity to access them.
Acceptance of a company’s efforts are gained by creating fair chances for everyone it interacts with.
Inclusion. It can only be fulfilled once the diverse publics are given equal opportunities to succeed or obtain the companies’ services. By including all who are a part of the organization in every way, the organization will be acting with the greatest means possible.
Going into 2021, there is no longer an excuse not to have a DE&I plan (or any plan for that matter), because if 2020 has revealed one thing, it is that the world can and will change in an instant. So you better be prepared because everyone will expect you to respond with diligence.
Katrin (Kat) Friesen is a senior C&IS student from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a remote intern for Epilepsy Foundation Alabama, serves as director of BAMAthon for UADM, is the secretary for UA’s chapter of the American Institute of Professional Geologists and is UA PRSSA’s VP of diversity and inclusion. Connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn.