Most organizations today know the importance of having a diverse workforce, as the benefits have been clearly articulated for decades now. Yet, most entities still struggle, particularly in our state, to move related efforts and initiatives forward in meaningful ways. Let me provide one example. 

In the past month, I’ve had people from three large organizations in Utah tell me that their company or university has spent months and even years debating which words leaders and employees should and should not use when it comes to diversity efforts. Typically, diversity, inclusion, belonging, equality and equity are the five words used most often, with “access,” “opportunity,” and others also added to the mix in some settings. I asked each of these individuals why these conversations took so long, and each confirmed that their organizations were nervous about using certain words because of the “impression” it would give to others. In fact, one person said his organization didn’t want anyone to feel “uncomfortable” or “uneasy.”  

Workforce diversity a goal for Utah employers, but they’re only getting so far

According to one of these individuals, her large organization decided that they just wanted their employees to use the word “belonging” and nothing else — not diversity, not inclusion, and definitely not equality or equity! The problem with this is that we cannot create opportunities for “belonging” unless we address and work on equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. “Belonging” by itself does not make sense! It must be paired with efforts around equity, equality, inclusion and diversity. They are not the same. 

It has become clearer to me through the years that we must understand and wrestle with each of these concepts to make true progress. Being a truly inclusive entity (e.g., home, workplace, congregation, community) and creating more opportunities for “belonging” takes work, and tiptoeing around words — let alone critical concepts like sexism and racism — means that deeper conversations are most likely not happening. Becoming more inclusive as individuals and organizations takes learning to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It is all about learning, growth and change, which, whether we like it or not, often require some discomfort in the process. 

Opinion: Why just talking about diversity won’t help Utah move forward

A while back, I published an opinion piece in the Deseret News where I defined each of these terms. In addition to basic definitions, these are a few other things I’ve learned through the years that have been helpful to me: 

Diversity. If we only focus on diversity — making sure we have a mix of genders, races, ethnicities, ages and more — then we are less likely to have created an organizational culture that fosters belonging.

Diversity is about representation. 

Inclusion. The focus of inclusion is on efforts and practices that teams or organizations implement to help people — who have different backgrounds — feel equally treated, accepted and welcomed.

Inclusion is what an organization does and is about actions

Belonging. This refers to a feeling employees have that they are connected and can relate to others around them. Just because there is diversity and an organization is rolling out inclusion efforts does not mean that people feeling like they belong. 

Belonging is a feeling

Equity. What gets individuals, organizations, and societies to fairness and justice is equity. It is a process that leads to the goal of equality. Equity focuses more on giving individuals and groups what they need and making sure everyone has access and opportunities, realizing that not everyone needs the same assistance or resources. 

Equality. The state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. If we only focus on equality (which is the goal) without the process and path (inclusion and equity), it is tough to get to belonging. 

It is exciting to see progress in some of our Utah companies and I appreciate partnering with Gov. Spencer Cox and his administration to develop strategy focusing on helping more Utah girls and women — along with boys and men — thrive. Yes, words matter. But if the energy is only toward how we talk about this important work, nothing will change. Action is needed if we want to transform our state into a place where more Utahns are represented, more Utahns have a voice and more Utahns feel they belong.