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  • Dr. Toya Barnes-Teamer

Why DEI? How to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizations.

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

The data speaks to an ongoing need for the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion to guide decision-making across our social systems to mitigate structural inequities across economic, educational, and health outcomes.


At Teamer Strategy Group, we are often asked whether addressing these inequities begins with a moral or economic imperative. The answer is: It depends!


Emphasizing equity as a moral or economic imperative depends on what compels the stakeholder to act. There is a place for both imperatives in the development of new strategies that incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in meeting institutional goals.


Morality or Economy?

A moral imperative is a strongly felt principle that compels a person to act.[1] Morality is a categorical imperative, as defined by Immanuel Kant, that all humans hold a special place in creation as thinking and reasoning beings. [2]


In contrast, the economic imperative is made up of the principles that guide organizations in shaping their work ethics and cultural values over time. Ensuring that the economy continues to thrive and prosper for the greater good of society requires equitable access to economic, educational, and health opportunities.


There are some key steps to ensure that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts address and build a culture that supports success.


Staff Engagement: Internal Discovery and Measuring Objectives

Organizations should begin with an internal discovery process. This should include an assessment of who they are as an organization, and a review of any culture or climate assessments or surveys of staff and other stakeholders done in the past. If this has not been done, the organization should commit to this first step.


The next step is to define shared language. If an organization has not defined what it means by terms like diversity, equity, inclusion, or anti-racism, it leaves too much to subjective perceptions or experiences that make measurement difficult.


An equity lens analyzes the impact of policies on under-represented communities and is essential in identifying and potentially eliminating barriers.[3]


The path forward is deliberate and intentional.

We must intentionally shift the narrative of “getting over race and differences” to “acknowledging race and differences.”


To do this, we must modify or create policies around an equity narrative. New policies should be crafted from the results of policy audits that have been aligned with the appropriate data analysis, decision-making, and financial resources that recognize the need to eliminate disparities in outcomes.


Diversity, equity, and inclusion require both a culture that sees and supports the full spectrum of identities that comprise the organization, and continuous and intentional work for long-term sustainability.


Without a culture that creates true inclusion by eliminating barriers to opportunities and resources, organizations are simply maintaining inequity.


Some questions to ask as you begin this work include:

  • How do you talk about DEI within your organization, and why?

  • Are any issues coming to the fore within the data?

  • Is the data disaggregated, and do we see differences between populations?

  • How do individuals describe their work or relationship to the organization? Do people feel included and that their contribution is valued?

  • Are there benchmarks? And how are we measuring whether our DEI interventions are successful?

  • How do decisions impact those who are most marginalized in our organization?

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this work?


Please share your reflections and let us know if there is additional information we can share or additional topics you would like to see covered here.


[1] “Moral Imperative,” Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., March 5, 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_imperative [2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, ID: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2010); Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. Mary J. Gregor and Jens Timmermann (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2012)} [3] University Policy Program, “Equity Lens,” (University of Minnesota, July 12, 2018), https://policy.umn.edu/equity-lens.

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