Diversity is the Future


It’s something that has always been necessary, but many people are just being introduced or awakened to the concept of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). We’re starting to see more companies and organizations incorporating DEI efforts within their programming and work culture.

The term “diversity” didn’t become prevalent until the 1960s during the civil rights movement. Back then, diversity was considered Black and White. Literally.

Around the 1980s, there was a slow increase of Black students attending colleges and companies hiring Black employees. This is what “diversity” looked like back them.

However, the term has evolved over the past few decades with society’s changing landscape. We’ve seen things become less Black and White and more multicultural and multidimensional. Today, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word diversity as “the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.”

Because of this “practice of inclusion,” more people have seen the value of diversity and what we know today as DEI.

The Importance of Diversity

There is a great quote from British Physicist Tim Berners-Lee that I often refer to when speaking about why people should care about diversity and why implementing it into your initiatives is a must. He said, “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” Not only to face new challenges, but also boost innovation and new ideas. When I think of a diverse room, I envision a space of creativity and people respectfully challenging one another for the greater good.

I know this to be true because I’ve seen people find success in these spaces. I’ve seen others fail when not including people of diverse backgrounds.

Several years ago, McDonald’s put out a commercial aiming to reach a Black audience. The setting was on an airplane. A Black woman brought her McDonald’s chicken tenders (a new menu item at the time) to eat during the flight. As she starts to doze off, a flight attendant is walking down the aisle collecting trash. He comes to the woman’s seat and notices the delicious chicken tenders and the fact that she’s fallen asleep. As soon as he goes to try to take her food, she immediately wakes up and says, “Uh uh, you betta don’t!”

This narrow-minded way of thinking Black women speak (and relate) to this dialect was a swing and a miss for McDonald’s. As you might imagine, the commercial was yanked off the air fairly quickly because people were not “Lovin’ It”.

This is what I like to call “when diversity goes wrong.” Commercials like this happen when a diverse group of people isn’t represented in the decision-making room.

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a promotional video for Homecoming Week. The montage video, which was meant to unite the campus, had an ongoing and glaring theme. Almost everyone was White.

There was an outrage on campus and across the country, especially with Black university students. The New York Times reported that Black students felt the video was “just a daily fact of life: they feel they are not wanted at the university.” This is an important piece that people often miss. All the time we hear how colleges want more diversity, but they don’t realize if people don’t see themselves represented, they’re not going to feel welcomed. It’s that simple.

Similar to McDonald’s, there was no diverse representation in the room when coming up with the concept for the homecoming video. The biggest concern is the fact that everyone looked around the room, only saw people who looked like them, and didn’t find a problem with it.

People tend to think lack of diversity and discrimination only hurts marginalized communities. What those people don’t understand is it impacts them as well.

One might say a lack of diversity can be bad for business.

Equality and Equity

Some people truly feel we have reached equality across the country, because, “Hey, we had a Black President after all.” [Enter eye roll here]. Sure, we have seen much progress over the past few decades, but in no way have we reached full equality.

We haven’t reached full equality because of a missing element: equity. There is a reason the “E” in DEI is equity and not equality.

I recently spoke with a colleague who had a great analogy of the difference between equity and equality. She said, “Equality is giving a pair of shoes to everyone, and equity is making sure the shoes fit each person.” Unfortunately, we have not reached this level of understanding as a country. We don’t need to look further than our communities to see that.

As someone who has lived in what’s considered White neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods, I’ve witnessed examples of the “shoe not fitting”.

As a society, we all have the opportunity to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle. Everyone gets a pair of shoes, right? But as we take a step back, we notice the majority of Black communities are filled with liquor stores, convenience shops, and a few fast food options. Rarely do you see organic markets, grocery stores, and gyms in a close-mile radius like we do in other communities. Here is where we lose momentum. Here is where we miss the opportunity of equity.

One can say the same thing when it comes to higher education. We all have the right to further our education, but not everyone can afford it. Many times it’s not for lack of trying. No one is given the same resources (money, private schools, books, etc.) to help us succeed. However, I believe Community Colleges have been a great answer to fixing the equity gap when it comes to higher education.

Ultimately, we are so busy trying to fulfill diversity optics, that we forget to accommodate the equity needs. It’s time to normalize diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s time to normalize ASL interpreters at events, Whole Foods in multicultural communities, ramps and elevators in all buildings, affordable education, and new up-to-date books in all classrooms.

It’s not enough for people just to be there. They must be able to participate, too.

Practice Has Value

In the Oxford Dictionary, notice how the definition of diversity starts with “the practice.” This new understanding of diversity and the value it brings takes a form of practice. The only way to practice is to start implementing. Diversity is no longer Black and White. Putting a person of color on your board is an equality “seat filler”.

DEI is not only making sure people of different backgrounds are represented in the room, but also making sure those people have the same voice and level of influence everyone else does around the table.

Whether you’re a student, administrator, or advisor, your job is to implement diversity within your programming, initiatives, and work culture and see for yourself the difference it makes. You have the choice of being another “diversity gone wrong” story or a “diversity gone right” success story.

If you’re not expanding your understanding of diversity, you will get left behind. Diversity is the future, and it’s time to embrace the value and benefits.