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.

Addressing Workplace Harassment: A Call for Change

Workplace harassment is a type of discrimination that harms not just the victim but also the whole workplace vibe. It can come in many forms, like hurtful words, physical harm, or unwelcome advances, and it makes the work environment feel hostile. Yet, despite...

5 Corporate Shortcomings for Newly Promoted Managers

If you've ever been promoted from the ranks of the worker bees to the lofty position of a manager, you know it's like jumping into the deep end of the corporate swimming pool without knowing how to swim. It's a thrilling, yet terrifying experience that can often leave...

It’s Human Resource Professional Day!

A profession that often flies under the radar but plays a pivotal role in making organizations thrive - Human Resources (HR).  On this special occasion of HR Professional Day, let's give a shout-out to the unsung heroes behind the scenes, ensuring that organizations...

Inclusive Culture: What Does It Actually Mean?

There is a lot of talk about “inclusive culture” in the workplace. But what does it actually mean? In its purest form, an inclusive culture is about creating an environment where every individual feels valued, respected, and empowered, regardless of their background,...

What can we all learn from recent layoffs?

10,000 layoffs at Microsoft. 6,000 layoffs on Twitter – that's a whopping 80% of their workforce! Amazon isn't far behind, with 18,000 layoffs Even Meta is planning to cut another 10,000 jobs.  And Google? Well, they've let go of 12,000 of their own. Job market is...

Mastering Retention: The Manager’s Role

As someone who has spent quite some time in the workplace, I've noticed something odd: talented people seem to leave their jobs more often than not. It's always a bit baffling when someone with all the skills and abilities a company needs up and leaves for seemingly...

3 Ways to Foster Emotional Intelligence Within Your Team

Ever wondered what sets truly successful teams apart? It's not just about technical skills and expertise – it's also about something more intangible yet incredibly impactful: Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Picture a workplace where challenges are met with ease,...

The Importance of Promoting Mental Health at Work

It is important to prioritize mental health not just in our personal lives, but also in our professional lives. Work can be a significant source of stress and anxiety for many individuals, and promoting mental health in the workplace can have multiple benefits. In...

Intercultural Communication in Organizations

Intercultural communication is like a bridge that helps people from different backgrounds talk to and understand each other. It's not just about language, but also about how we express ourselves. Take me, for example—I'm from the Philippines, working at Civility...

Nurturing an Inclusive and Diverse Mindset for a Better World

In a rapidly evolving world, where the boundaries between cultures, perspectives, and experiences are becoming increasingly porous, cultivating an inclusive mindset has never been more crucial. An inclusive mindset is not just a buzzword; it's a fundamental shift in...