The Brookings Institute defines diversity as “all of the characteristics and attributes that make each one of us unique.” It further explains that diversity actually includes many dimensions. Elements such as race, gender, age, socio-economic status, religion, and even work experience are all elements of a diverse population. In America’s “melting pot”, diversity has now become a hot button issue in regards to civil rights, policing, and even workplace equity and inclusion. Although these past couple of years we’ve seen a heavy focus towards educating people on the importance and understanding of diversity, there are some who have been committed to this work for quite some time. Created in 2019, The Diversity Movement was a passion project started by five innovators from Walk West whose eLearning course on inclusion and bottom-line results spiraled into a full-service DEI Consultancy. At The Diversity Movement, their team is committed to providing insight on the notion of diversity, equity, and inclusion “by combining a unique mix of products, education, and consulting”.
Coming from a diverse family, Jackie Ferguson acknowledges her advantage to understanding why diversity in all forms is an essential part of a progressive society. As Head of Content and Programming at The Diversity Movement, Ferguson has seen her industry change tremendously; along with the desire for companies to seek out the proper way to understand and implement policies that reflect diversity, equity, and inclusion. She explains that growing up she “learned to process differing perspectives real time, and engage in conversations to find bridges to understanding, empathy and allyship”. In the same vein, she also understands that not everyone grew up that way, and for some it may be a little difficult to understand others with different lifestyles, backgrounds, and opinions. Her work at The Diversity Movement seeks to bridge that gap and facilitate meaningful dialogue and actionable change.
Whenever things become a buzz word in the media, it’s very common for folks to put their own spin on it and create their own definitions. Over the course of the past year incidents in the media have created a slew of headlines that includes issues surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. But many are not fully aware of what the terms consist of it and what they truly mean. It’s very similar to the controversy that once surrounded affirmative action policies. Before people became truly aware of what affirmative action did and did not include, there was widespread controversy and the practice was sometimes met with uninformed resistance. Experts in DEI are experiencing this backlash now, and they find themselves having to explain the true meaning on a regular basis. What may appear to be a frustrating task for most, Jackie Ferguson takes it all in stride with a ton of patience and just as much understanding. She graciously explains the differences, taking into account that some people are at different places on the spectrum of learning about DEI. Jackie explains that she “was born into it” and is aware that “some people are starting at different points of being uncomfortable” when it comes to learning about DEI. Depending on how they are raised or what their life experiences are, they may start their journey at different points.
A quick lesson into the differences amongst these three buzz words shows us how we can understand what DEI means :
- Diversity is about People and the differences in people’s lived experiences –
- Inclusion is about participation – how those people are able to show up in the workplace) do they feel comfortable, safe, and can they contribute
- Equity is about processes and policies – Ex: Parental leave. Is this maternity only, or is it for all parents, adoption, etc.
There are major differences amongst the different facets of the industry. And essentially it takes having a structure and strategy that includes all three in order for an organization to be successful. It’s seemingly ineffective to acknowledge people’s diverse backgrounds and life experiences without developing a company culture and policies that address these differences. “Implementing these changes can change a business and provide transformational outcomes. Studies are now showing that companies are benefiting from these transformations.” She further explains that by embracing DEI, companies can take advantage of having diverse voices with different types of innovation, ideas, and creative problem solving.
Within creating a diverse environment where people can truly thrive, it’s important to note that the emphasis is on much more than race. It also includes taking into consideration factors such as gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical disabilities, and education levels. The learning curve is constantly shifting due to the many different types of people in the workplace. “There is a level of intentionality in making sure that human resource and business leaders are thinking more about how policies are written” says Ferguson. She shares that her role in the DEI space has evolved quite a bit in the past year due to the prevalence of race riots over the last year, new legislation, and the ever changing melting pot of cultures we have in the workplace.
What has happened is that there is a noticeable change in the use of inclusive language. But more focus needs to be on understanding exactly what inclusive language means and how it impacts the people who are in these diverse communities. This is one of the many areas that The Diversity Movement focuses on. They work hard to ensure that they are not only bringing attention to issues related to inclusivity, but also creating content that is informative and educational when it comes to inclusivity. When it comes to the knowledge gap or the misunderstanding of what inclusivity means, Jackie tells us that many times people simply don’t say anything. “Instead of being afraid to be uncomfortable, they simply don’t do anything. But people should be thinking about what they can find out on their own that can give you a decent foundation for a conversation”.
For now, Jackie Ferguson is focused on her evolving role at The Diversity Movement. The organization currently puts out content in the form of blogs, videos, micro-lessons, and white papers. As the Head of Content and Programming at TDM, there is a growing need for flexibility and creativity. Ferguson understands that in order to reach new audiences that new measures of communication may be necessary. In all of her efforts to create progressive content for TDM, Ferguson puts in the hope that if her lifelong work reaches at least one person then she has made a difference in the lives of others.