The national dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion, has increased substantially over the past several years, and is now a focal point of our everyday lives. Commonly referred to as DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion has become an important part of discussions in both the public and private sectors, with systemic issues not only occurring in the workplace but also in various industries such as financial services, housing, healthcare and education.
As our society continues to become more diverse, the ability to work towards equity and inclusion is critically important, ensuring everyone has the respect and economic opportunity that enables people to succeed and our country to thrive. Despite the increasing conversation around these issues, as of today few corporations and communities have managed to achieve a truly equitable environment. Although it may take more time to bring about permanent change, having an open dialogue plays an important role in pursuit of that goal.
What is Diversity Equity and Inclusion?
Diversity encompasses the ways in which people are unique and different. Diversity extends to a variety of opinions, ideas, perspectives, and values. In a group context, diversity is the degree to which the group includes different people, ideas, or perspectives. The more diverse a group is, the more perspectives are included. Diversity can be used to delineate differences in a variety of categories including race, gender, age, religious identity, disability status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, history of incarceration, and educational background.
Equity means being cognizant of past (or present) barriers that limit opportunities for certain segments of our population. Equity is the fair and just treatment of all people or groups. Improving equity requires analyzing the justness and fairness present in the current protocols and structure of organizations, as well as how the organization distributes its resources. Addressing issues of equity requires an understanding of the root cause of the disparities present in our society.
Inclusion means creating spaces where everyone feels welcome regardless of who they are. Inclusion is about valuing diversity and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to participate fully, regardless of their background or perspective.
What Role Does Diversity and Inclusion Play in the Workforce?
Understanding why DEI matters is relatively simple, but defining it is not so easy. In the context of the workforce, it might mean hiring people who are not like you because they bring fresh ideas or new perspectives to your company. At the highest level of the organization, it is necessary to have leaders and board members of various genders, sexual orientation, and racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Benefits of DEI in the Workforce
Aside from being a clear social, political, ethical, and moral responsibility, diversity in the workplace can have some serious benefits. Simply put, diversity and inclusion efforts can help you grow your customer base, and make your employees more productive.
Diversity and Inclusion in Financial Services
Banks and credit unions are institutions that provide financial services to individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and governments. Banks also provide loans to other institutions or private parties. Because these transactions are important both economically and socially, banks and credit unions must ensure they are serving their customers' financial needs while following regulatory guidelines. Equality in Banking regulations protect consumers against discrimination based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity leave, race (including nationality), religion or belief (including lack of belief) and sex.
However, inclusion in financial services remains a huge issue. There are numerous systemic barriers to accessing financial services for many individuals, particularly those who are low income or are justice-impacted. These systemic barriers have had a disproportionate impact on people of color and women. Specific issues include unaffordable fees, lack of acceptable identification required to open an account, prior banking issues and negative comments on consumer reporting compliance systems, like ChexSystems. Limited access to mainstream financial services forces many people to use predatory alternatives, such as check cashing services and payday lenders that charge exorbitant fees and interest rates.
Diversity and Inclusion in Housing
Part of diversity and inclusion involves ensuring people have equal access to housing. That does not mean simply making sure someone has a roof over their head; it also means making sure they can access mortgages or loans to purchase a home. Unfortunately, many people in marginalized groups face considerable barriers when it comes to getting approved for mortgages—if they can get approved at all. Broken families, stressed communities, and threats to public safety are the costs we pay as a society for the failure to create a more effective system of housing.
Diversity and Inclusion in Education
Even if you don’t attend college, diversity in higher education is still something you should care about. Unequal access to education, including higher education, leads to barriers in economic mobility. Over their lifetime, college graduates earn roughly $800,000 more than their peers who only graduated from high school. There are other benefits too; students at diverse universities are exposed to other cultures (thus developing more empathy for other people), receive better grades (there’s evidence that diverse groups make better decisions), and even experience less stress during college (diversity teaches us how to handle different situations). So why should anyone care about diversity in higher education? Well, for starters because it affects you—and everyone else.
Supporting the Evolution of Diversity and Inclusion
As our world becomes increasingly globalized, we will continue to meet and work with people from various backgrounds and cultures. We need to accept and cherish differences for the powerful force they can be, not build barriers against them. This means embracing different cultures, races, genders and identities as positive forces that bring more perspective. As a society we need to champion diversity and inclusion for our citizens, employees, customers, and neighbors - ensuring that everyone, regardless of what they believe in or what they look like, is treated fairly and justly, and has the same opportunity to succeed as everyone else.