Diversity and Inclusion 101


5 critical vocab words to know

By Farah Mahesri, co-founder Quantum Impact

We all love jargon

The diversity and inclusion (D&I) field is much like development because it loves its jargon and acronyms. And in D&I these seem even more intimidating because we’re all so afraid of saying the wrong thing.

But research has shown that organizations that are diverse and inclusive have better results - and for us in development, this means more impact and more change around the world.

Below are what we at Quantum Impact would consider the top five words in the diversity and inclusion fields.

Words to Know

Diversity. Diversity is about difference, and how much difference there is between members in a group or a team. For development orgs, it’s useful to think about diversity through a few different lenses:

  • Team diversity. This is about the people you work with every day, and making sure that everyone doesn’t look the same or have the same resume and life story. Why? Because having a diverse team can help your team do its best work - diversity can foster better discussions and lets us look for answers from different angles that help us find new solutions.
  • Leadership diversity. Leadership teams at any organization make strategic and financial decisions.  Having diversity at the top can help organizations think creatively about their priorities, and actually perform better. For example, companies with more diverse leadership did up to 35% better than the companies in their peer groups. Just imagine what that can do for the development impact we are having.
  • Diversity of beneficiaries and stakeholders. And, as a priority, we should be thinking about who our projects are working with. This includes who we are talking to while developing proposals, who gets invited to stakeholder forums, who our grantees are, etc.

One key thing to remember is that groups are diverse; individuals are not. For example, a candidate as an individual cannot be “diverse.” But, a pool of candidates for a specific position can be diverse.

Inclusion. Inclusion is about bringing people together. The University of Rhode Island defines inclusion as, “The ability or skill to include different constituencies in policy, design and decision-making processes.”

The key to understanding inclusion is recognizing that a team can be diverse, but if we don’t take the extra step to make sure that everyone feels welcome and included, that same team is not inclusive. Without this extra step, we don’t get to enjoy the benefits of diversity.

For us in development, this is critical because we have to hear all the different voices in the room in order to make sure our solutions will have impact. One common issue around inclusion that we still see in every corner of the world is inclusion of women. Very often, we make every effort to bring women into the room - whether it’s a stakeholder forum or a headquarters’ executive retreat. But, are we taking that extra step to make sure women are actually included in the conversation? Unfortunately, research shows not. One study by Brigham Young and Princeton Universities found that women speak 75% less than their male colleagues in meetings, conferences, etc. Those are a lot of ideas, insights and solutions that we’re missing.

Equity. At its core, equity--in the D&I field--is about recognizing that the playing field has not always been equal and fair. UC Berkeley defines equity as “the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all...while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups.”

Promoting equity is about understanding and respecting that different people have had very different journeys and experiences in their life. On our teams, this means taking into account that our job descriptions - particularly for leadership positions - need to be written with equity in mind. On our projects, this might mean ensuring that stakeholders from outside the capital can physically attend a meeting, even if we don’t offer the same incentives or allowances to those who can easily come.

As you can see, diversity, inclusion and equity are all interrelated terms, and fall on a spectrum. As Christine Riordan writes in the Harvard Business Review, “diversity is useless without inclusivity.” At the same time, we need inclusion to help us achieve equity.

Check out this helpful blog, which describes the three terms in greater detail, including some detailed examples, and key reflection questions.

Now, of course, no one wants to use the acronym “D.I.E.” in their work, so you’ll often see the letters rearranged to be “DEI”.

Unconscious Bias. We also hear and read a lot about bias, and to answer it we have one simple question. How many triangles to you see? Take a second to think about it.

How many triangles do you see? 

How many triangles do you see? 

The answer is 0. There are no triangles.

This answer surprises a lot of people. The reason our eyes see triangles is because our brain is busy trying to process “11 million pieces of information per second.” Unfortunately, our brain can only consciously capture about 50 pieces per second, and process about 7. That’s a huge drop - 11 million to 7. As a result, our brains try to fill in missing blanks, and take some shortcuts so that we can work faster. We see triangles because our brain is trying to help us work faster by filling in the missing pieces for us. Unfortunately, that often leads us to jump to a false conclusion or make assumptions that are incorrect.

Sometimes, this is just about triangles. But some of these unconscious biases can be harmful - for a poignant example of this, read this week’s story on racial bias in the workplace. Most often, this is what prevents our teams from being inclusive and equitable - and reaping all those great benefits.

To fix this, we have to help each other identify any biases, assumptions or stereotypes that are minds are using that are are inadvertently hurting co-workers or our projects, and get our minds to stop doing that (while maintaining productivity). How? Tune in to our upcoming article where we share some practical 60-second or less tips on how to combat unconscious bias, and be a more inclusive leader.

Intersectionality. Intersectionality was a concept introduced in 1989 by the African-American lawyer and scholar Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. The term has two main concepts behind it. First, people have multiple identities that co-exist. For example, a person is never just African-American or a woman. They are always both African-American and a woman at the same time.

The second part is that these identities intersect in ways that often further marginalize already marginalized groups. For example, African-Americans have historically faced discrimination in workplaces in the U.S. Women have also historically faced discrimination in the workplace. But, African-American women have faced a compounded amount of discrimination because of how these two identities interplay, and because again - a person will always be both of these things at the same time.

The full theory behind intersectionality is a bit more complex, and includes legal implications of this compounded discrimination. However, this Washington Post article by Dr. Crenshaw is an easily digestible overview that further explains this term and provides interesting current context.


Reflect on your experiences!

  1. On a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very), how comfortable are you using the five words we’ve shared above in conversations with most of your co-workers? Why did you answer the way that you did?

  2. On a scale of 1 (great) to 5 (haven’t started yet), how well do you think your organization is doing in talking about diversity and inclusion? Why did you answer the way that you did?

  3. What are some additional words related to D&I that you’ve heard and would like Quantum Impact to provide additional explanation? (email us at contact@quantumimpact.org)

Resources and steps you can take

It’s okay to not know all of these words. D&I is all about inclusion and learning - so ask questions and keep learning. Quantum Impact also has some useful articles and background materials on our website that explore many core D&I concepts. If you have questions, please ask! You can reach us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or by email, or sign-up for a consultation as part of the #GlobalDevWomen campaign.

And tune in to our upcoming article where we share some practical, 60-second or less tips on how to combat unconscious bias!