What Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Really Mean

by Jan 26, 2023

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential to creating a positive work environment where employees are happy and thriving. We work with organizations to assess and address any issues related to DEI, and we provide training and resources to help create a culture of respect and inclusion. 

We often start by assessing our clients’ cultures to understand whether relationships are healthy and if people perceive the organization as inclusive or not. Once we understand the opportunities for improvement, we can provide training and development opportunities for employees and leaders, and create and implement strategies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. 

But what does DEI really mean? The three concepts—which are interrelated but distinct—are crucial for developing a supportive and respectful working culture.



Diversity refers to the range of qualities that distinguish groups of people from other groups of people. Often described in a trifecta of sex/gender, race/ethnicity, and physical abilities, the list of what makes us diverse is much longer. Diversity is any difference among people and their physical characteristics, behaviors, values, worldview, needs and more. Beyond the trifecta, consider that diversity is also about:

  • Gender expression and gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religious beliefs and values
  • Age
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Parental status, and thoughts or views on parenting decisions
  • Politics
  • Medical conditions
  • Military or veteran status
  • Cultural styles
  • Diversity in thought, and in communication style 

In order to welcome a diverse population into the workforce, we all have to recognize and appreciate people’s differences. We need to acknowledge that people have a variety of experiences and backgrounds, which adds value to businesses.



Equity refers to the fair and just treatment of all individuals, regardless of their diverse characteristics. It means ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources so that everyone has an equal chance to succeed. That means barriers preventing some individuals from succeeding must also be removed.

And so the conversation about systemic discrimination begins. Employers everywhere must actively address historical bias or discriminatory practices and give historically underrepresented groups more resources or support. 

Please keep in mind that just because you may not see systemic discrimination easily, it’s likely there. If your organization is focused on DEI, your organization must be willing to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. Look at your vendors, for example, how many of them are Black or woman-owned? Where do your recruiting efforts fall short of bringing in a diverse pool of candidates? Is your website and the customer experience in your online client portal easy for all customers, or just most of them? Does your work schedule meet the needs of single parents or the sandwich generation?

These are just some of the areas where your systems may need a revamp to ensure they’re more equitable. 



Inclusion refers to creating a culture where all individuals feel welcomed, respected, and valued. It is creating a sense of belonging for everyone.

This means that everyone should feel that they are part of the organization, that their contributions are valued, and that they are respected and treated fairly. It also involves fostering a culture in which everyone is motivated to engage and collaborate, and free to express their thoughts.

I’m sure you’ve heard or seen the famous Verna Meyers quote: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”



However, that famous quote leaves out the newest term to be added to the DEI acronym, Belonging. This blog post notes that belonging goes beyond dancing, and is about being asked for input on the music playlist, and feeling free to ask anyone you want to dance with you. Another post points out that being asked to dance insinuates someone else controls the pace and space of the dance floor… so it’s missing the whole point of DEIB work. 

There are significant differences between being asked to dance because you’re a guest in someone else’s home, and being asked to create and build the home and plan the party inside of it. Belonging means that underrepresented groups feel as much ability as the “main group” to step in, fully participate, and influence the outcomes.

Belonging is also where the business can see real benefits, because people see an openness to their comments and questions, which inspires them to continue to share them. Then everyone starts to see the real benefits of being open to those comments and questions through their team’s work and output. 

We’re always focused on creating environments where everyone feels valued, respected, included, and as if they belong (i.e., feel psychologically safe). Where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed because the systems have made it possible by removing barriers, the people are inviting groups in, and the organization is celebrating full participation and influence from all members of the workforce, no matter what groups they may belong to. 



Catherine, Jenny, & The Civility Partners Team

When it comes to DEI, language matters…and it’s constantly evolving. Are you using the right terminology in your organization? Download our DEI Terminology Cheat Sheet and see how you stack up.

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

Retention Challenges: Are Your Managers Leading Talent Out?

Are your managers leading talent through the door or out the door? If you are struggling with retention, it's time to make sure that your managers are trained in the most critical 3-C skills! For generations our work was process-driven. We created policies and...

Creating a Culture of Safety Recognition: Best Practices for Employers

Promoting a positive work culture and psychological safety as a crucial part of employee well-being and productivity - that’s why it’s at the top of our minds. How about yours? Part of creating a safe workplace environment involves encouraging employees to prioritize...

Webinar: Creating and Measuring Psychological Safety

In this 60-minute, 1 SHRM credit-earning webinar, you’ll learn how to: Define psychological safety and its importance in the workplace Measure psychological safety on teams  Brainstorm what behaviors create and/or corrode trust on teams  Understand the connection...

How to Identify a Low Performer on your Team

Do you have someone on your team who is: very hardworking and responsible, brings in the most revenue, super highIQ, works hard and puts in long hours…

Importance of Unconscious Bias Training

Everyone has unconscious biases, whether we acknowledge them or not. Bias, if recognized, might restrict your ability to connect with people or destroy existing ties. Personal preferences can impair work performance in all professionals, but notably in leaders and...

What Does Inclusive Culture Actually Mean?

There is so much talk about DEI these days. Diverse talent has become a hot commodity for any company and recruiters are fighting to get as many visibly diverse (aka BIPOC) candidates on their roaster as possible. Companies are demanding HR only hire diverse talent...

Newly Promoted Managers: Five Ways Companies Are Failing Them

What are the ways companies are failing their newly promoted managers? A recent Fortune magazine study found a mere seven percent of Fortune 500 CEOs think their companies are building effective leaders.  Ineffective leaders create ineffective toxic cultures that lead...

Top Three Priorities of Inclusive Leaders

The new modern digital world needs more inclusive leaders that care about their people and know how to support them in doing their best work.   People stay because of good managers and people leave because of bad ones. Which one do you want to be and what makes...

Is Being More Human at Work Really Unprofessional?

Is being more human at work really unprofessional? I remember being a mother for the first time and returning to my corporate office. I had left my little baby behind and I was worried for her well-being. I thought about her being alone in that day care and having all...

5 Signs of an Unhealthy Work Environment & How to Fix It

We hear a lot of various words and phrases being thrown around these days - toxic work environment, unhealthy work environment, lacking psychological safety, and more. In fact I’m often asked, “What is the definition of a toxic work environment?”  My response is, “Ask...