From equality to diversity to inclusion: the shifting emphasis of progress

As a training exercise I get groups to define the terms equality, diversity and inclusion. Groups have a vague understanding of the terms yet rarely have full clarity. However, it is the shift in use of terminology over time that demonstrates the progress that is being made.

10+ years ago we talked about equal opportunities, and equality. Today we talk about diversity and inclusion. This is a positive shift – and a full understanding of the meaning of the different terms highlights why:


Equality is a revised term for ‘equal opportunities’. It is based on the legal obligation to comply with anti-discrimination legislation.  Equality protects people and minority groups from being discriminated against on the grounds of group membership i.e. sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief or age.


Diversity is all of the ways in which people differ, including innate characteristics (such as age, race, gender, ethnicity, mental and physical abilities, sexual orientation) and acquired characteristics (such as education, income, religion, work experience, language skills, geographic location and family status). In organisation terms it is recognized that difference is good, and can bring added insight, creativity, and a greater understanding of customer needs.


Inclusion is an organisational effort and practices in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, and equally treated. Inclusion is a sense of belonging.People feel a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that they can do their best at work.

So in summary, diversity is the mix, and inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.

The shift in language has come along due to the fact that legislation around equal opportunities has been around for a while now and has become part of the way things are done. This has allowed the next phase to be reached, the examining of the effectiveness of the legislation. The legislation is the bare minimum, and a starting point, for efforts to achieve inclusion.

Many organisations group their policies, activities and training together as ‘equality and diversity’ initiatives, or ‘diversity and inclusion’ – however I feel that an awareness of the different terms is helpful as it can help an organisation identify where they are on the spectrum. If an organisation is ticking all the boxes in terms of equality, but has not yet achieved its diversity goals, then that would suggest that more targeted action is needed. If there is diversity, but not inclusion, e.g. harmony in working relationships, then it would be good to ask what practices are needed to achieve this. There will be no one right answer here, and this is not such an easy ‘box to tick’ as producing equality data and will most likely be achieved by sensitive exploration of issues with the groups affected.

At Talentstorm we can help your business with equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives and practice – just get in touch! 

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