What Does a DEI Workplace Look Like?

It would be nice if we were all the same, wouldn’t it? If all people just uniformly looked and thought alike. We’d all get along, we’d all be happy because there’d be no conflict. It would be a perfectly efficient system. Yet by the same token – there would be nothing special about anyone either. There would be no gifts of personality or skill, no difference of thought or perspective. Nothing that makes mankind truly unique and glorious. Perhaps one of the most important things we’d be missing is opportunities to help one another.

Humans are a deeply social species. Like any social animal, we are often observed displaying an incredible tenacity when it comes to helping those in need. For this reason, many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities wear wristbands in Australia so that first responders or anyone attempting to help someone in a compromised position can offer the best care.

Why is it then, that the disabled community are often drawing the short straw when it comes to equity in the workplace? DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) efforts are improving across the country in multiple spheres, but is it enough? Most importantly, how can you tell whether or not your workplace is DEI-friendly?

What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

DEI is a term used to define policies, programs, and practices that encourage an inclusive atmosphere at work. People with disabilities, people of colour, transgender, and non-heterosexual people, are still suffering from the hatred and discrimination that has followed them through history. DEI practices are designed to ensure that modern workplaces maintain ethical standards and practices when dealing with people with disability, the LGBTQI+ community, and other marginalised groups.

Diversity is defined as: “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.” In simple terms, it’s involving and accepting people regardless of how who they are makes you feel. It is an exercise in tolerance, and in recognising that just because you might feel a certain way about someone, it doesn’t give you the right to cause them physical or emotional harm or deny them opportunity.

Equity is the practice of making sure everyone has what they need. It can be easy to confuse this with equality, however, there is a distinct difference. Equality refers to a paradigm where everyone can access the same resources. It sounds great on paper, but what if that resource is a ladder? A ladder isn’t going to help people who are very tall, or people incapable of climbing it. It is equal, but not equitable; when everyone in a community has access to what they need according to their circumstances. Instead of a ladder, the tall person gets a pick-up tool so they don’t have to bend over as much. The person who can’t climb instead has access to a specialised elevator.

Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that all members of a community have access to opportunity, safety, care, and support. It is acknowledging and celebrating, rather than ostracising and erasing a person or culture’s contributions, efforts, history, and presence. Racism is a non-inclusive practice, as it actively bars people of certain cultural backgrounds from living a safe, meaningful life. 

What Does a DEI Workplace Look Like?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell at a glance what kind of company a potential workplace is. There is a big difference between how companies present themselves, and what they’re actually like behind closed doors.

So how do we make sure that a workplace is DEI-conscious? 

The Groundwork

The first thing you have to do with any investment, whether it’s your money, time, or in this case, your livelihood, is to do good research. While a company can fake their ideals and lie about elective benefits that won’t appear on your contract, it is often difficult to keep these lies off the internet for long, especially when the truth is in the hands of disgruntled ex-employees.

For example, employee reviews on websites like Glassdoor and Indeed are a must before applying. Between the two of them, these websites have databases of company reviews from people who used to work there and experienced it first-hand. Aside from this, you can also check out their leadership team and see if your demographic is represented, or scour their employee benefit programs, and public actions and statements. If all available evidence points towards a cohesive DEI-positive conclusion then go ahead and submit that application!

Once you’re in the office though, what does DEI look like in action?

Into the Thick of It

If a company isn’t all they’ve cracked up to be it will start to show sooner or later. Trust your instincts, you know what normal looks like, you’ve lived in it all your life. If a coworker or manager says or does something that seems suspect, chase it up with your co-workers.

A DEI-positive workplace has many clear factors. Everyone is given equitable access to resources, their unique positions are fairly accounted for and considered, all employees are invited to give their perspectives, opinions, and ideas, and no one is at the butt of brutal victimisation or punishment.

The Importance of DEI

We live in a capitalist world. Which simply means that we need money to live. There is no other option for us, no other choice. People need to work to live, but until CEOs and companies step up to the challenge of offering equitable work for everyone, the reality is that not everyone is going to be able to live. DEI practices harm no one, and offer security for everyone and opportunity to those who need it most. In today’s work DEI isn’t just a beneficial business practice, it’s the only ethical choice.

Interesting Related Article: “How Organizations Can Foster Diversity and Inclusivity In 2024