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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Diversity is a given; Equity is what we’re missing

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are popular topics for training courses, corporate positions, and employee resource groups.

Today we find ourselves swinging on the arms of a predictable pendulum from “everyone is responsible for DEI” to “we need a single point of accountability for DEI” or “why do we need DEI?” Anti-racism books, and anti-bias training help us feel like we have done something meaningful and that we’re moving in the right direction.

However, let us take a closer look at DEI and what these terms mean.


Diversity simply means two things are different. Equity means individuals are treated differently based on the recognition that our social systems have advantaged some people while disadvantaging others. Inclusion means different people have voice, power and decision-making authority. Out of these three terms, we hear more about diversity.

However, diversity is the one term that is a “given”. Diversity is a fact. The diversity that has always been present is growing.

In fact, a 2019 Brookings report stated “For the first time, non-Hispanic white residents now make up less than half (49.9%) of the nation’s under age 15 population” according to the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau.

If children of color under the age of 15 were 50.1% of the population four years ago, the number is surely higher in 2023. Diversity is an undisputable fact and is here to stay.
In 1991, I was the only person of color in an exempt role in the department. It was not unusual to be “the only one” in the ‘90s.

More than 30 years later, there is more diversity in the workplace. There is also more diversity in C-suite positions, but the progress is too slow. According to Fortune Magazine, there were six Black chief executives leading Fortune 500 companies in 2022.

Six Black leaders equates to approximately 1% of businesses on the 2022 Fortune Magazine ranking. One percent! As I stated earlier, diversity is a fact, but the resistance is significant.

Moving on to inclusion, have you heard “diversity is being invited to the party: inclusion is being invited to dance”? We want more for our Black community than an invitation to dance, and we want more than an employee resource group to help us feel included.

We want our lives to be valued, our voices to be heard and the authority to make impactful business decisions. Most of all, we (Black women) want to be paid more than the current 63 cents to the white man’s dollar. (In New Jersey, Black women are making 52 cents to the white man’s dollar.) We want equity, pay equity!

The current pay inequities for Black women contribute to $1 million dollars less over the course of a career compared to a White man in the same role. “They” say money is not the primary factor for work satisfaction, but $1 million over the course of a career would break the cycle of poverty that 19% of the Black population is currently experiencing.

$1 million would buy a house in a safe neighborhood. $1 million would give our children access to high quality early childhood learning and a good college education. $1 million would allow us to pay down debt.

According to a 2016 Brookings report, four years after graduation, the average Black college graduate owes $52,726, compared to $28,006 for the average White college graduate.

Diversity and Inclusion are important, but we need equity, especially pay equity. Pay equity is the equalizer we are looking for because it feels like the racial wealth gap is getting worse.

There are many programs designed to help Black and other underserved communities, but do these programs help us close the racial wealth gap?

I do not know the answer but I do know any diversity program that does not help us close the gap is well-intended, but it does not move Black families from an average household income of $48,297 to that of White households which average $74,262 (based on 2021 data).

For this reason, I added salary negotiation to the Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute Green Belt program. We may have limited control over the systems that perpetuate inequality and racism, but we can be savvier and more strategic in negotiating our salaries. We can also own our own businesses to make money on our own terms.

In closing, the most impactful action an organization can take in the DEI space is to help Black people get paid more equitably.

Guest contributor Joy E. Mason is the President of Optimist Business Solutions and the CEO of the Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute.

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