“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
- Verna Myers, Founder & President at Verna Myers Consulting Group
Ask any Star Wars fan for a definition of the Force, and you’re bound to be disappointed. That’s because there really isn’t one, other than a loose description of it being “an energy field” created by all living things surrounding us that binds the galaxy together. The vagueness is probably quite deliberate, as creator George Lucas wanted it to be mystical and magical and belonging to another realm from consciousness in humans as well as in other life forms.
Maybe just a fanciful tale for Han Solo, but for the Jedi, the Force is everything: a life-defining esoteric power that is the source of their authority. Feared and revered for their lightsabre warrior skills and ability to harness this power, Jedi are the virtuous, principled guardians of all that is good, just and fair in the Galactic Republic. And the natural cosmic foil to the excesses of the Dark Side and the Empire.
On Planet Earth, the concept of fairness and how it appears in society, such as “fairness” in healthcare, employment, housing and so on is more opaque to most people. That said, the pathways that lead to social justice through the elimination of bias and discrimination are evident in every aspect of our society and are identified by the acronym “DEI,” which refers to diversity, equity and inclusion. And when you wrap social justice around them and move the letters around, you get “JEDI.”
As far as acronyms go, JEDI sticks with you. It’s memorable and a neat way to include justice within the DEI formula and bring in a broader ethical dimension. Its popularity comes from the Star Wars connection though for some the association is problematic because of our differences around social justice and the values of diversity, equity and inclusion that we seek to uphold.
In our society, ideas around social justice have been with us for more than 200 years. Today, our understanding of it really rests on four basic principles – human rights, access, participation and equity – and there can’t be any social justice without them. Everyone has human rights that should be respected and protected. And there should be equal opportunity for everyone to choose the life they want and to be happy.
In the JEDI scheme, social justice depends on our relative progress in DEI and how well these elements work in combination to advance our goals as a just society. DEI concepts are best seen as separate but complementary concepts that are mutually reinforcing to be successful. As such:
The COVID-19 pandemic – and the ensuing economic disruptions and social and political unrest that go with it – has brought DEI issues to centre stage. Today, DEI and ESG (environmental, social and governance) have real momentum in pressing organizations and businesses to take action on social justice.
Diversity has long been recognized as an invaluable catalyst for positive group dynamics and productivity. It brings in new ideas and acts as a pathway to unlock creativity and make people more receptive to new perspectives. However, to date, despite our best efforts and success in creating diverse communities, the same cannot be said about progress in making organizations and communities equitable and inclusive.
Diversity and inclusion consultant Verna Myers explains that diversity is like receiving an invitation to a party, equity is possessing the resources to attend and inclusion is being asked to dance. Our equity goals need to focus on the pursuit of fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent full participation. Our inclusion goals need to centre on creating environments in which individuals and groups feel respected and sufficiently valued to participate fully.
It is not enough for organizations to “want” diversity, they also need to go out of their way to welcome and embrace diverse perspectives. DEI can help them propel these initiatives forward by helping the communities take responsibility for change in group dynamics through the examination of their own beliefs and behaviours in the context of advancing social justice.
Generally speaking, DEI has revolved around promoting diversity by increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in organizations. But fostering diversity alone is only part of the solution. Equity and inclusion are equally important and the most rewarding strategies require that we make solid progress on all three.
Promoting equity in an environment requires all its individuals to have equal access to opportunities, experiences, growth and rewards. An inclusive organization is one where every person in it feels a connection and sense of belonging. All three variables – diversity, equity and inclusion – are complementary and reinforcing and necessary to create an authentic inclusive workforce which welcomes and values the contributions of people from all different backgrounds and experiences.
Despite the proven benefits of having a diverse workforce, employers have been slow to develop a strategy to transition to a diverse, equitable and inclusive working environment. At the same time, the quest for profound social and demographic change continues to highlight Canada’s DEI shortcomings in the workplace and the necessity for remedial action.
Following COVID-19 and the wider social injustices exposed by the George Floyd murder and the #metoo movement, existing paradigms for businesses have shifted, with workforces working remotely, and choosing to revisit their career options. The new status quo has given them new opportunities and they are taking advantage of it, looking more critically at the companies they work for and whether they’re a good fit for their career ambitions and the moral and ethical dimension.
The workplace transformation also provides employers the opportunity to kickstart their DEI ambitions in their workforces. The evolution of the virtual office means access to a broader geography of talent and the chance of offer employment opportunities to working parents, caregivers, people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses who may not be able to travel to work.
So far, at least, the indications are there is a lot of work to be done. “The vast majority of corporate Canada hasn’t come around yet,” says Gavin Barrett, a co-founder of Barrett and Welsh, a Toronto visible minority-lead branding and advertising agency and certified B Corporation that specializes in creating inclusion through communications.
For Barrett, diversity tells us who we are are as a society, whereas equity and inclusion are where we need to go and how to get there. “Diversity,” he says, “describes us. Equity is our destination. And inclusion is the action that must take to get there.”
More recently, he’s a founding partner of People of Colour in Advertising and Marketing (POCAM) whose mission is to empower BIPOC advertising and marketing professionals to succeed in a systematically White environment. In June 2020, it invited clients and industry organizations to commit to The Call for Equity, a list of demands to create justice, equity and inclusion in the industry. To date, 120 agencies, including Pivot Design Group, and clients have answered The Call.
All too often, efforts in the corporate world to tackle prejudice and discrimination seem more about optics than action, with business leaders quick to make pronouncements but slow to act.
The question is, what is it going to take to transform good intentions into action, and what needs to happen to make JEDI a reality?
It’s an inescapable fact that DEI is fast becoming synonymous with our organizational health in the business world. We are all challenged to come up with better social justice solutions that will satisfy the diversity, equity and inclusion requirements of an evolving workforce as well as the growing demands of all stakeholders. For all of us, the time has come for concerted action to deliver on social justice for our society with comprehensive measures that will make DEI a working reality across the board.
 Certified B Corporations are defined as businesses that act in wats that benefit society as a whole in the belief their purpose is not just profits but also for social and environmental good.
 Clients were asked to commit to all 15 demands; industry organization who were not clients were asked to commit to 12.