Addressing issues surrounding inclusion, diversity, equity, and access are not easy. Such issues are complex and, as such, require complex, intentional strategies. Such strategies require three key components: First, those developing the strategy must have a keen understanding of what each of these four powerful values mean and the negative impact systems may endure when they do not embrace them. Second, those developing the strategy must understand that inclusion, diversity, equity, and access are interwoven concepts that cannot be separated; attempts to do so may create an incomplete understanding of the problem being considered and, therefore, lead to an incomplete resolution. Finally, attempts to address such issues cannot be focused on “fixing people,” rather, such continuous improvements must take a broader approach; they must strategically examine and adjust the organization’s underlying systems and structures. In other words, we must identify barriers through a critical lens and invest our energies into disrupting and troubling those barriers so members of our teams can show up fully to do their best work. (Being Black is not a barrier – white supremacy is. Being a woman is not a barrier – patriarchy is).

If we only focus on diversity, in terms of counting people, we miss out on making people count. If we have a diverse group but people don’t feel a part of the team, we fall short of creating an environment where people can thrive. For many, diversity only accounts for the number of individuals who are of a certain identity or demographic. It is important to have that awareness and at the same time, we must ensure that people from diverse backgrounds are included, respected, affirmed and welcomed.

If we only focus on inclusion, we fail to consider how important it is to have diverse perspectives at the table. If everyone had the same identities, perspectives, and experiences, it’s fair to think that most would feel included. But what happens when we have diversity present? Are we actively working to make sure the voices that differ from others are respected and taken seriously? Additionally, are we considering how some people don’t truly feel like they belong but they are trying to simply survive in a space by navigating an environment that was not designed for their success?

If we only focus on equity, we may not think about how we need to account for the demographics (diversity) to understand where our organization has gaps and areas for growth in representation. Equity is often thinking beyond the “golden rule”, which says we should treat people how we want to be treated. Equity means we should treat people the way they want to be treated. In order to fully accomplish this, we must know who is present, what their needs are, and how we can ensure they have a place, voice, and power.

If we only focus on access, it can be easy to forget that even with access (to opportunities) or having an accessible environment, if people are present yet are not included or don’t feel like they are empowered to share their perspective or be involved with influencing outcomes once they arrive, they won’t truly feel like they belong, are respected, and valued.

If we understand inclusion, diversity, equity, and access as interconnected to either other, we can move toward a more holistic and representative approach to problems we are working to address.

This is one perspective – we are allowed to critique and disagree. In fact, we encourage critical perspective taking and shifting.