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The meaning of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging through the dance, art, and business

“What is the difference between diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?”

A common question for those new to the D&I conversation, and for many who are not so new to the conversation.

The answer is both simple and vastly complex as it’s full of nuances and subtleties seeped in human behavior, perception, and assumptions.

To infuse emotion and nuance into answering this question, we turn to analogies. One of the most common is “the dance”.

“The dance” as an analogy to D&I definitions:

DIVERSITY is being asked to the dance.

INCLUSION is being asked to dance.

EQUITY is how much space on the floor you get.

BELONGING is who gets to choose the music.

This analogy is good – it gives a relatable, emotional connection to the concepts. But there is something missing.

For example, you can be asked to the dance and asked to dance and get a great position on the dance floor and even pick a song or two, but what if you still don’t feel comfortable or like you belong? And, is it really inclusive and belonging if people at the dance self-segregate into their own demographics at the tables and on the dance floor?

This got me thinking – there must be a better analogy that encompasses the power and depth of D&I. Something that can encapsulate the unity without conformity behind the facets of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging.

A party fundamentally lacks the depth of emotion of humanity… but what about art?

Art as an analogy to D&I definitions.

DIVERSITY is which artists are represented.

INCLUSION is how the art is represented.

EQUITY is how much space or time the art gets.

BELONGING is how the story behind the art is woven into the human story.

This analogy, while not quite as simplistic, provides depth and nuance to tell a more complete story.

Diversity is the selection of artists and performers from the curated mix of music to the installations at a gallery to the season of performances. Diversity is the culture, views, styles, scale, word and color choice, media, messages, purpose, technique. It is the classical and the abstract, the harmonious and dissidence, the perceived and intended. Diversity in art mirrors the diversity of people – truly limitless.

Inclusion is how the art is presented to the audience. Together or separated, as part of a single journey or as disconnected elements. As part of the main event or as a side show or cover band. No matter how amazing the art or artist, how it’s presented tells the audience how important it is to the overall experience. It can mean the difference between awe inspiring and merely present. Like with people, art may be present, but without being engaged as part of the experience, it is not included.

Equity is the space and attention the art is given in comparison to the rest of the artists. Music shoved to the end of a performance as the audience is leaving is not held in the same regard as the opening act. Installations in a dark corner or hidden on a separate floor doesn’t have the same weight as those along the most traveled route. Independent of how glorious it may be, the more burden the art holds to gain the attention of the audience as compared to its peers, the less likely it will be appreciated. Like with people, inequities dampen potential and stifles greatness.

Belonging is how the stories all come together. The balance of the beauty each piece provides along with the unity of the experience. Every piece has its own story that is rich in the personality and experiences of its creator. However, if those stories remain separate without a tie to the greater story of humanity, they will lack a sense of relevance and familiarity to much of their audience. Like with people, belonging is not conforming, it’s linking every individual in all their authenticity to the bigger picture so that each has relevance and is celebrated to what it brings to the whole.

Bringing it all together

Exhibits and performances with strong D&I give both a sense of the vastness of humanity and the intimacy of how it all fits together. It tells completely foreign stories in a familiar and engaging way, expanding our perceptions. And while we may not find it all aesthetically pleasing, we do appreciate it.

Organizations with strong D&I can do the exact same thing for their employees, their customers, partners, and applicants. They create environments that celebrate authentic individuality, empower everyone by valuing their perspectives, provide equal opportunities and compensation, and create a strong sense of how everything fits together to create a stronger whole.

What does your organization do?

For the record - the simple definitions.

DIVERSITY is the demographic (or other attribute) distribution of a group of people. The more different attributes are represented in significant numbers, the more diverse the group.

For example, a group that is 45% male, 45% female and 10% other is more gender diverse when compared to a group that is 90% female and 10% male.

EQUITY is the differences in value access based on an individual’s demographics (or other attributes). Inequity occurs when one demographic gets greater perks or compensation than another such as higher salaries, more opportunity for training, and preference for advancement.

For example, if people under the age of 40 are offered lower salaries for the same work as compared to their over-40 counterparts, there is age inequity.

INCLUSION is the differences in engagement based on an individual’s demographics (or other attributes). Lack of inclusion occurs when one demographic is more often engaged in events, designs, discussions, and decisions, than another.

For example, if people of color are not engaged to provide feedback and weigh in on critical decisions at the same rate as their white counterparts of the same rank and responsibilities, there is race/ethnicity lack of inclusion.

BELONGING is how much people feel welcomed as members of the team independent of their demographics (or other attributes). Lack of belonging occurs when individuals feel left out or like tolerated outcasts.

For example, if those with physical disabilities are never invited to lunch or included in meetings because the cafeteria and conference rooms are inaccessible or others are uncomfortable with being around someone with a disability, those with disabilities do not get a sense of belonging.

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