The Case for the Acronym IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility)

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : March 7, 2022

Although diversity isn’t a new sector, it is developing rapidly and diversity, equity and inclusivity initiatives are now integral to efforts to achieve positive change within organizations. Definitions and terminology are evolving. Different jurisdictions have been using varied acronyms and EDI/DEI/IDE seem to be used interchangeably which can cause confusion among people outside academia and those working in the field. Members of the consulting community have proposed the addition of accessibility as a discrete fourth factor in the assessment of organizations. With that adjustment, the acronym “IDEA” has emerged.

IDEA is the umbrella term for the different factors that contribute to realizing organizational excellence through an improved culture: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. A thorough examination of each factor is far beyond the scope of this article, but here are summaries:

Inclusion

Inclusion is creating a culture that embraces, respects, accepts, and values diversity. A workplace or corporate culture may present itself as diverse without inclusivity. An “Our Team” page on a website may show the diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and age and may also include persons with disabilities, but older straight white male Christians (for example) may dominate senior management. The company has a diverse staff, but the culture falls short of inclusivity since senior management is not diverse. In addition, informal segregation among the workforce may occur, with certain roles disproportionately occupied by people from identifiable groups.

Without an active commitment to inclusion, chances for promotion, mentoring and other opportunities tend to go to people favoured by those in power. Embracing active inclusion as a value for the organization shifts the culture from a passive and ineffective ideal to an equitable environment providing genuine opportunities for all. The result is not only good for employee morale; it can increase innovation and productivity by liberating the previously unseen talents of the workforce. 

Diversity

Diversity has several elements. An article[1] from Alliant University argues that there are four types of diversity:

  •  Internal, the characteristics the individual is born into and cannot change;
  • External, characteristics that are related to the person but are learned and may change;
  • Organizational or functional diversity which relates to assigned roles in a company or organization with two or more persons; and
  • Worldview diversity encompasses the previous three and relates to political beliefs, moral values, epistemology and outlook on life. A person’s worldview may change over time as they gain experience.

Diversity, therefore, is the wide variety of unique characteristics to be found among humans. Populations are diverse. As noted above, organizations can be made up of individuals from many backgrounds and personal characteristics, but inclusivity is the key to a dynamic culture that supports the maximum potential of each person.

Equity

Equity exists when the organizational culture enables all people to participate, perform, and engage to the same extent. Equity differs from equality in that equity includes the assessment of outcomes, whereas equality is measured by whether or not participants received an equal portion of whatever is being shared.

For example, imagine a group of people at a summer camp. The group includes physically active adults, sedentary adults and young children. It’s time for lunch. How is the food divided? Equality dictates equal portions for each person, regardless of their individual need, but this would result in some people being left hungry and others unable to eat all they are given. Equity, on the other hand, would mean different portions for each person according to their individual needs, with the outcome being that everybody is satisfied and no food is wasted.

Accessibility

Accessibility is a quality relating to “a building, facility, structure, program, activity, resource, product etc. that is readily usable, or the extent to which it is readily usable by a person with a disability. For buildings and facilities accessibility is often problematic, owing to the fact that older buildings must be retrofitted to allow access for wheelchairs. Some buildings may be rated accessible because there is a way to get from a meeting room to an auditorium, but that “way” may mean leaving the building and wheeling around outdoor pathways that are rained on or covered in snow and ice depending on the season. The building is technically accessible but practically inaccessible, which adds up to inaccessible.

Up till now, accessibility has generally been included within diversity, but this has effectively downgraded its importance in achieving equitable access for all. The subject of accessibility has also traditionally been restricted to physical barriers, such as the lack of ramps as alternatives to stairs. Barriers to access may exist, however, for any members of a diverse workplace and may include obstacles relating to neurodivergence and mental health. A 2019 article[2] in Work Design Magazine asserts that at least 17% of the workforce is neurodivergent, with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyslexia among the listed conditions. This figure does not include many employees who are managing depression and other mental illnesses.

Consider a workplace where harsh lighting, loud noise, and crowding can severely affect those who are sensitive to light, noise, or social anxiety. In office workspaces, simple measures like workplace “oases” featuring appropriate colours, soft fabrics and softer lighting can provide space to support neurodivergent employees. Providing supportive space in industrial settings is more of a challenge, but the principle still applies.

Definitions evolve as new perspectives emerge through research and experience.

With the wider definition of accessibility, replacing the DEI/EDI/IDE acronyms with the common term IDEA is a reasonable and necessary evolution.

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[1] Alliant International University. (2021). What are the 4 Types of Diversity. www.alliant.edu. Retrieved February 11, 2022 from https://www.alliant.edu/blog/what-are-4-types-diversity

[2] Sargent, K. (2019). Designing for Neurodiversity and Inclusion. www.workdesign.com Retrieved February 14, 2022 https://www.workdesign.com/2019/12/designing-for-neurodiversity-and-inclusion/

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