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How do you define authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion, and why does authenticity relating to them matter?

Lakisha Higgins
George Sample, Assistant Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity

As appeared in the Cleveland Fed Digest's Ask the Expert on 04.13.2021

Issue #42 | April 13, 2021

Practicing authentic diversity means that you don’t limit your diversification of the workforce to a focus on just minorities and women. Practicing authentic diversity within your workforce means your organization strives to attract every dimension of difference—age, education, thought process, sexual orientation, religion, and more. Right-brained people have different approaches than left-brained people. Differently abled people experience the world differently, and their experiences bring a broader perspective to your organization.

Practicing authentic inclusion is ensuring we encourage ideas that are different than ours and we’re interested in including them in what we’re doing. It means we’re seeking differences in opinion. We sometimes don’t do that because we seek to avoid conflict, but trust can only happen if we are unafraid to have uncomfortable conversations. Authentic inclusion is when everybody feels free to bring their voices to the table and trusts that the organization will use the ideas that have value. You know authentic inclusion is happening at your organization when broad arrays of perspectives are considered before decisions are made.

Practicing authentic equity means we realize the interventions needed to help some people require more work than the interventions needed to assist others—and we’re OK with that. This is where the conversation usually becomes challenging because people like the idea of “let’s make it good for everybody,” but they don’t like the equity action items. When you see data showing different incarceration rates by ethnicity and the wealth gap by gender and ethnicity, it is clear that there’s a lot of equity work that has to happen.

For workplaces, there are hard measures of equitable treatment. It’s crucial to look for differences in pay and performance ratings for people in the same job at the same level to ensure there’s equity in how you’re operating as an organization. One of the things that happens often for people who are diverse is they don’t get the assignments that are highly impactful and visible, and that can limit their opportunity to do work that would lead to promotion in their organization. To see if your organization is equitable, check to ensure there’s equity in how performance management plays out, and consider, level by level as you go up in your ranks, do you have gender diversity, ethnic diversity, able-bodied diversity? Do you have artificial barriers for promotion such as overly restrictive job descriptions? If you examine your job descriptions, can the skills and abilities you require be acquired in ways other than through certain degrees or credentials? Often those artificial barriers have a higher impact on minorities and women than on other members of our population.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is tough work. For every three folks who say, “this is good work,” you have one who says, “I feel this is an overreach.” For these people, consistently communicate how your diversity, equity, and inclusion work helps to advance the mission of the organization. Some will never agree with the view, but it is important that they understand it.

Organizations that practice authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion work have a significant advantage over organizations that don’t because they are able to recruit better talent, develop a broader array of talent, and create an environment where talent chooses to stay. Organizations that are not authentic in these areas often experience toxic workplaces and high employee turnover. Make your organization one where authentic diversity, equity, and inclusion matter because they create an environment where everyone feels valued and able to develop.


George Sample is assistant vice president in the Cleveland Fed’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity. He works to ensure the Bank attracts diverse employees, supports them once they get there, and develops their careers so they grow.

Have a question of your own for George? Email him.


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