Graphic of many multi colored raised hands symbolizing diversity, equity and inclusion

More Than a Race: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) is Ongoing

Running is a major part of my life and I run daily. Running has several health benefits such as cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and bone density. I run for my physical health, but also for my mental health to relax, reduce stress, decompress, and process my thoughts. On my latest run, I thought about how everyone thinks of DEI as a race, even if they do not say it aloud. Most companies and executives believe that they can hire DEI leaders or do DEI initiatives and then DEI will be accomplished as if it was a checkbox of a long list of monotonous tasks. Unfortunately, this is not how cultural change is impacted or how true equity works.

When we mention the acronym “DEI”, we are discussing the terms “Diversity”, “Equity”, and “Inclusion”. During this article, we will take a deeper dive into what equity actually means. Equity is a concept that has various meanings, but in this context, we will refer to equity in the realm of social justice. In plain language, equity means fairness for all. To take a deeper dive into equity, we have to understand that equity describes fairness and justice in the way people are treated. Fairness means being impartial and just, without discrimination. Justice means giving each person what they deserve or what they need. When we view equity through this lens, we realize that equity means caring for individuals holistically, including all of their identities and perspectives. When we view equity in this way, we can ensure that resources and opportunities are created more fairly, and everyone has the opportunity for success.

Many times, people mistake equity for equality or treat them as synonyms, but they are not. Equity and equality are related, but we must understand that they are two distinct concepts. Equality refers to the idea that every person should be treated the exact same way, regardless of their identities, privilege, or oppression. Equality is a topic that has been pushed for several decades as a way of treating people because not all people were treated the same and marginalized individuals were discriminated against due to their identities. Equality was pushed to mediate this, but equality is not enough to counter this mistreatment. Equity is vastly different and refers to the idea that people are treated based on their individual circumstances to truly achieve fairness and justice. Equity means giving people what they need to be successful. To descriptively illustrate equality and equity in action, if you picture two people of different heights attempting to look over a fence, equality would mean giving both of them the same size box and expecting both of them to view over the fence.

With equality, we give people the exact same resources and expect the same results, but we must understand that we do not all come from the same exact starting point and disadvantages exist. To exemplify equity, the shorter individual would get a taller box and the taller person would get a shorter box. In doing this, both individuals could achieve the goal of viewing over the fence. Equity is giving people what they need to truly be successful. Unfortunately, many people are viewing environments and treating people with an equality mindset instead of an equity mindset. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are working to create an equity-minded environment.

To us, an equity-minded workplace is an environment where all employees are treated fairly, and individual differences are acknowledged and celebrated. We are practicing this in a variety of ways, such as in our initiatives, identifying bias, building diverse teams, developing more equitable practices, providing opportunities for professional development, and transparently communicating. An example of an initiative we have started is sending an email including details about diverse holidays and observances at the beginning of each month. This allows all people to feel recognized, and it also allows people to gain new exposure and opportunities to learn about diverse events. We are actively identifying bias in policies and educating people at Monthly Diversity Discussions. Understanding our own identities increases self-awareness, assists with developing empathy, and allows us to gain compassion toward ourselves and people who have different identities than what we do.

The Human Development Institute is having a better understanding of the diversity within our team by promoting opportunities to reflect on our identities and by finding new ways to appeal to a wider range of candidates by building more inclusive job descriptions. More equitable practices are being developed by giving employees the resources they need and empowering them to access opportunities. Professional development opportunities are consistently created and shared with employees to build skills. Equitable communication is practiced through transparency. Communication is shared in a variety of ways such as emails, during ¾ office hours that are held monthly, and formally through performance evaluations. These are a few examples of how the Human Development Institute is creating a more equity-minded environment throughout our community. The equity-minded initiatives were not created instantaneously but have been managed over time with great colleagues.

Some people compare DEI to a sprint where we can do a ton of quick initiatives and it will be resolved quickly. Other people take a slower approach and treat DEI like a marathon where they take a more steady approach over time in hopes of one day being finished. This is a more reasonable thought process, but unfortunately, this way of thinking is not right either. We cannot think of DEI as a sprint, half marathon, or marathon. We cannot think of DEI as a race we can finish. DEI is ongoing, steady action. DEI cannot be sped through, and DEI is more than one person’s responsibility. It takes a whole team to change an environment into an equitable inclusive culture for all. At the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, we are not treating DEI as a race. We are practicing DEI universally to promote a sustainable, equity-minded work environment where DEI is foundational and ongoing for us to truly impact social justice and accessibility

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Monthly Diversity Discussions

January 2023: Jewish Community & Antisemitism

The January Monthly Diversity Discussion focuses on the Jewish Community & Antisemitism. There has been an increase in disheartening experiences related to antisemitism and an increase in aggressive acts over the past two years. This is a topic that most people need additional education on to increase awareness and build inclusion. This discussion engages four panelists whose research focuses on Jewish Studies to discuss this topic.

February 2023: Black History Month: How to be Antiracist

Black History Month was created to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to African Americans living in the United States today. Race does not biologically exist yet is a social concept that influences our experiences and shapes our lives. Being antiracist means fighting against racism in all of its forms. This is how we can actively work to promote equity.

March 2023: Disability & Girlhood

The focus of the March Monthly Diversity Discussion was on the intersection of Disability & Girlhood. Dr. Anastasia Todd who is an assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies here at the University of Kentucky will join us. Dr. Todd’s research focuses on feminist disability studies and girlhood studies. They have a forthcoming book titled, Cripping Girlhood (University of Michigan Press), which is a winner of the 2022 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities. They have been published in Disability Studies Quarterly, Girlhood Studies, and Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy. Dr. Todd also teaches courses in feminist theory, disability studies, and affect theory. Join us an learn more about the intersectionality of Disability & Girlhood.

May 2023: Building Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive excellence refers to the framework for creating and sustaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. The goal of inclusive excellence is to ensure that all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other identities, feel valued, respected, supported, and have equal access to both opportunities and resources. Inclusive excellence emphasizes the importance of diversity and equity while recognizing that simply having diverse individuals is not enough to create truly inclusive environments. Inclusive culture requires intentional efforts to promote inclusion, eliminate barriers, create opportunities, and foster belonging. Join this conversation with Dr. Cristia Brown, Professor and Associate Dean of Inclusive Excellence for the Psychology Department at the University of Kentucky. This is an opportunity to learn practical approaches to prioritize inclusive excellence and create a more equitable and just society.

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HDI’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

by Dr. Nicholas Wright, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than buzzwords for the Human Development Institute (HDI) at the University of Kentucky and DEI means more than just headcounts. In order to truly understand the magnitude of diversity, equity, & inclusion here at HDI, it is first important to understand what we mean when we use these terms. We view the term diversity as the presence of different identities including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, religion, age, political perspective, etc., and this in no way is an exhaustive list. When we use the word equity, we promote justice and fairness within HDI through policies and research. Understanding equity means that we first have to understand the causes of disparities in society and ensure that resources are distributed where they are needed. Inclusion at HDI provides an environment where employees feel genuinely welcome in all processes and places. Inclusion establishes that all individuals, but especially diverse individuals feel comfortable participating and developing to reach their full potential. Understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion in this way and committing to our understanding allow for the implementation of initiatives and policies to care for our employees to ensure that everyone feels that they genuinely belong and can be their authentic selves.

As Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at HDI, I aim to find innovative ways for all 340+ employees to come together regularly for a purpose. With many HDI employees working remotely, this poses a challenge, but I view this as an opportunity for us to come together through technology to all grow as individuals and as a whole both professionally and personally. Monthly Diversity Discussions were introduced to achieve this goal, which is a series of events occurring once a month focused on various topics pertaining to diversity, equity, & inclusion. HDI staff accepted the Monthly Diversity Discussion series and eagerly joined the conversation. The first Monthly Diversity Discussion was in August of 2022 and 77 colleagues happily accepted the meeting invitation. The first Monthly Diversity Discussion focused on “Diversity, Identity, & Culture of Inclusion.” This event enlightened every one of our goals to make DEI a priority, bring people together in community, and create a culture of inclusion throughout HDI. Since the inaugural Monthly Diversity Discussion, we have extended this concept of inclusion by focusing on “Cultivating a Sense of Mattering” to discuss the importance of understanding that a sense of belonging is a sense of mattering, and to highlight ways we can instill this concept in ourselves and the people we work with. The October Diversity Discussion focused on “Cultural Bias” and invited national expert Dr. Allen Lewis, Jr. Dean and Professor at the State University at New York Downstate Health Science University, to discuss the impact of bias and discrimination in the workplace. HDI has a commitment to create an environment where differences are not only recognized and respected, but also celebrated. The November Monthly Diversity Discussion celebrated diversity by sharing individual traditions and food at an in-person event. The most recent, December Monthly Diversity Discussion focused on “Barriers to Advancing Diverse Populations” at HDI. This work was guided by HDI’s two-year strategic plan, and we had approximately 60 colleagues RSVP for this event. Conversations surrounding barriers here for underrepresented groups were initiated which reaped a wealth of information. These monthly diversity discussions have achieved our goal of coming together for a purpose and growing both personally and as an institute.

We are actively coming together to find connections and work in collaboration. HDI has a committee dedicated to disability, equity, & inclusion. The DEI committee allows for support to be built and opportunities for connection. I believe we are each other’s greatest resource, and the DEI committee is actively accomplishing that goal. From the main DEI Committee, two workgroups were formed to carry out the strategic plan. The first workgroup’s mission is to recruit, develop, and retain talent having knowledge, skills, and abilities that contribute to advancing HDI’s mission, with a focus on increasing representation from diverse populations. The second workgroup will identify and address barriers reducing or preventing the advancement of underserved groups within the Institute. These workgroups actively work on the strategic plan and encourage further development by giving leadership opportunities. These workgroups also allow for collaboration and ensure that everyone understands they are active members in the decision-making process.

HDI strives for an inclusive environment and culture where all people can be their true selves and genuinely belong. Through the Monthly Diversity Discussions, and committees focused on diversity, equity, & inclusion, we strive to be a leader in diversity at the University of Kentucky and the state of Kentucky. Fostering an inclusive and diverse HDI community is crucial to fulfilling our mission: to advance efforts that build inclusive communities, address inequities, and improve the lives of all people who experience disability across the lifespan. This is the Human Development Institute’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, my focus is on DEI, but DEI is everyone’s responsibility. I challenge you to make the commitment as well and find opportunities to gain knowledge in DEI to become more multiculturally competent. Gaining this knowledge will enhance communication and strengthen relationships throughout HDI. Whether you get involved in the Monthly Diversity Discussions, the DEI committees, or any other DEI initiative, I encourage you to always find ways to gain additional knowledge in diversity, equity, and inclusion. By doing this, we can ensure that the Human Development Institute is a great place for everyone to learn, work, and grow.