5 Misconceptions about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

What do we really understand about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)? Interest in EDI has boomed in recent years – but often with little discussion about how to practically implement EDI policies and practices.

With identity politics in the news right now following the recent decision to ban transgender men and women from participating in certain sports, it’s easy to fixate on awareness and neglect actionable change that implements the EDI values a business wishes to uphold.

However, EDI doesn’t have to be an intimidating subject, and making it easier to understand, starts with addressing common misconceptions surrounding what EDI looks like in action.

Mistake 1: allowing the celebration of difference to eclipse the implementation of change

Imagine a scenario in which an organisation is celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride month. The company logo is changed to a rainbow, the office is decorated with flags and employees are arranging to march in the upcoming Pride parade.

However, the organisation’s parental leave policy is not the same for adoptive parents compared to biological parents. The employee healthcare plan does not cover gender specialists or access to reassignment/ affirmation surgeries and, despite reminders, employees continually use the wrong pronouns for transgender colleagues.

Diversity, equality and inclusion are not standalone concepts – they are principles which must remain interlinked for demonstrable change to occur within an organisation. Celebrating difference is important but this celebration can appear superficial if employees’ basic needs are not met and assured through progressive workplace policies, regardless of their identity.

The benefits of a diverse workforce are undeniable and well documented but using that diversity to bolster the reputation of an organisation without implementing inclusive, conscientious workplace policies will skyrocket employee attrition rates.

Policies can include to access to leave, pay, language used within the workplace, mandatory training and a host of other facets of workplace culture. However, these policies should be either flexible to accommodate different needs or tailored to groups who require different forms of support- an equitable approach, as opposed to an equality-based framework.

Misconception 2: equality versus equity – what is the difference?

Let us return to the example of employees needing to learn to use appropriate pronouns for transgender colleagues. Sometimes these needs are incorrectly considered “additional”, as if this community requires more time and effort to be correctly treated than others. This is an example of “deficit thinking”.

Richard Valencia, professor of educational psychology and author of Dismantling contemporary deficit thinking, described this theory as one that “blames the victim” for their perceived “deficits”. In actuality, it is often that an individual has been denied the same opportunities and support provided to others because these things are tailored towards a particular social group. In this example, a belief that transgender individuals need special treatment instead of being comfortable with being treated like “everyone else” would be an example of deficit thinking.

This is where we must consider equality versus equity – giving everyone the same blanket treatment versus giving the correct support to all individuals. CIS gender individuals are almost always referred to with the correct pronouns because we associate terms such as she and he with particular expectations of physical appearance that many transgender individuals cannot (or do not want to) meet.

An equitable and thus inclusive approach would involve adjusting one’s approach to language to avoid making assumptions based on appearance. Some individuals working within EDI prefer to substitute equality in the acronym for equity because this approach involves addressing and tackling internalised assumptions based on protected characteristics instead of implementing the “blanket treatment” mentioned above.

Mistake 3: delivering a monologue instead of entering into a dialogue

Imagine a scenario in which an organisation is rolling out EDI training for its workforce. A representative of EDI or HR hosts talks on diversity, equality and inclusion with a large group of employees. After the representative has discussed their examples of different communities and conscientious approaches to working with them, there may be an opportunity for questions.

However, many individuals who feel anxious about discussing such a sensitive topic are likely to abstain from asking questions. As a consequence, these subjects remain unclear, abstracted and potentially intimidating for many employees. At the core of this issue is the delivery and implementation of EDI as a monologue; a one-sided informing of EDI practices instead of an open discussion.

A key problem in this scenario is that the representative informing others is positioned as an authority on all things EDI and is instructing others how to approach things. This practice abstracts the facets that define EDI; who is involved and how they are affected.

EDI training can often risk talking about individuals with protected characteristics (particularly those whose characteristics may not be as obvious, for example disability, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status) as if they do not exist, in the very training sessions that are being facilitated.

How can we help?

Our next Meraki Academy Training session will be on EDI on the 7th October from 9:30am-12 noon and will be led by Prisca Bradley; Meraki HR’s employment lawyer. Whilst wanting to be fully inclusive of course, (!) this session is aimed at Business Owners, Managers and Team Leaders/Supervisors, to help them understand their business obligations surrounding EDI in the workplace. You can book your place here.

A recent tribunal case highlighted that “stale” EDI training (more than 12 months old) could not be relied on by the employer to give them a statutory defence to discrimination claims.

Under equality law, anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.  Therefore, employers can be “vicariously liable” for discrimination, harassment or victimisation committed by their employees.

However, there is a defence to such claims if the employer can show that it took “all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act or from doing anything of that description.

So – what are “all reasonable steps” and when should they be taken?

Reasonable steps will usually include:

  • Having and implementing an equal opportunities policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy, and reviewing those policies as appropriate.
  • Making all employees aware of the policies and their implications.
  • Training managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues.
  • Taking steps to deal effectively with complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.

This training session will help you evidence three out of the four reasonable steps. Plus, there will also be an opportunity to sign up for a review of your related policies following the session. You can book your place here

The training will also contribute to the following and you may then wish to roll out this training to your internal teams via Prisca or Emma;

  • reducing the level and nature of complaints from clients or between staff members about discrimination or poor culture;
  • providing better EDI credentials when tendering for contracts as this is an increasing requirement from our clients;
  • furthering your commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance Issues, which are currently one of the biggest priorities for all organisations. These are a regulatory obligation for larger companies, but SMEs will eventually be brought into scope and may want to adhere to the standards early;
  • increasing productivity and staff morale;
  • retaining and attracting the best talent;
  • reducing turnover and staff absences;
  • limiting the financial and reputational costs associated with having to deal with complaints of discrimination.

Cost is £149 per person if booked before 31st August and £199 if booked from 1st September onwards. You can book your place here;