Reaffirming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: How Difference Can Make a Difference

November 20, 2023


A group of diverse employees surround a female leader, who has her arms crossed
In the workplace, DEI needs to be reframed as an asset rather than a philanthropic initiative.

"This work has driven my personal passion to empower people to maximize their full potential and impact in this world by living, loving, and leading their life authentically and true to oneself."

-Wema Hoover

Wema Hoover's Keynote at APC 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada began with a saddening but all-too-familiar story of discrimination in the workplace. Having just recieved her dream job as Global Chief Diversity Officer and Head of Culture at a company in Paris, France, Wema was mistaken as catering staff by her executive co-workers.   

"All the excitement, the joy, and energy that I had walking into that room left my body like hot air being released from a balloon," Wema said. "I had to pull myself together and I had to shake it off because, I said to myself, 'I have to make an impression. I have to make the best impression.' But then how could I?"

Feeling alone and unseen, Wema realized the importance of activating real inclusion in the workplace and leaving behind tokenism, or performative action made with little effort.

"We do this by reframing diversity, equity, and inclusion, and going beyond the performative," Wema continued. By actively and intentionally working towards inclusion, companies will create the conditions that "optimize collaboration... and drive business forward."

Wema Hoover on stage at APC 2023
Wema Hoover on stage at APC 2023

Diversity Statistics

To prove her point that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leads to high performance in organizations and communities, Wema cited a few statistics:

  • International Labor Organization: If women are encouraged and promoted in the workplace, and the Global Gender Gap is closed by 25%, $5.8 trillion dollars would be added to the global economy.
  • McKinsey's 2021 Diversity Report: Out of the top 400 companies in the US, Canada, Latin America, and the UK, the companeies that had the highest amount of ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed their peers by 35%. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Definitions

Many confuse or cross-reference diversity, equity, and inclusion. Wema describes diversity as "all of the things that make us different and unique... both visible and invisible characteristics," while equity "is the process and intentional act of ensuring that every person has access to fair and equal treatment by removing institutional and systemic barriers from organizations, practices, processes, and systems." Inclusion is when diversity and equity come together to make "the culture that creates the conditions for people to succeed." 

Audience Activity: Discrimination Self-Assessment 

During her session, Wema encouraged attendees to participate in a self-assessment exercise. After listening to the following questions, individuals were instructed to first stand, then raise their right and left hands, and finally clasp their hands above their head to count each situation they have personally experienced: 

  1. Were you ever denied service or entry into a restaurant?
  2. Have you ever, as a leader, been asked to arbitrarily take notes in a meeting, plan a party, or just serve coffee to attendees?
  3. Has anyone ever touched your hair without your permission?
  4. Have you ever been asked to share your nationality?

By the end of the exercise, almost all attendees were standing, and around a foruth of them had both of their hands raised. This activity showcased that while some groups have normal day-to-days, most have experienced micro-inequities and conditions.

APC 2023 attendees participating in reflection exercise
APC 2023 attendees participating in reflection exercise

Call to Action: Next Steps

To conclude her session, Wema stressed the need for organizations to take an integrative approach to activating inclusion. This involes a variety of tactical activities and behaviors:

  1. Foster a welcoming, psychologically-safe company culture that invites constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  2. Focus on people processes and provide channels and platforms for those with different experiences and backgrounds to express themselves.
  3. When thinking about business practices and driving business outcomes, develop the insight, knowledge, and cultural competencies needed to connect with customers and clients. 

"And so, Wema concluded, "when we think about purpose and how that actually brings to life the inclusive work environment, we think about the value of difference. This is where the head, the heart, and the internal cause of an organization is found."

To learn more about Wema Hoover and her work, visit her website.  

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