A New IDEA for DEI

The Ever-Evolving Acronym

There is more commitment now than ever to create diverse representation in our workplaces and seats of power. More effort is being made to roll up our sleeves to dig into the status quo and create solutions to the inequity all around us. As well as a greater call to address the need for everyone to be included and feel like they belong. The world is finally leaning into DEI in new and wonderful ways that are starting to make a difference and benefit everyone.

As this new wave of support for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion happens the conversation is starting to shift to ask, are we properly addressing everything?

This is an important reflection point. As we place our efforts into addressing the systemic challenges that have existed for decades, are we covering all of our bases? Is our current view of DEI including enough?

This question has sparked a flood of new conversations and ideas about what else should be addressed when looking to bring positive change to how the workplace understands DEI. Sometimes we want to accentuate our commitment to the parts of DEI, other times we may think we are missing something important. But either way these are important conversations to have.


There is a lot of support for the addition of Belonging in DEI, creating DEIB. Now, this is a worthwhile conversation to have. The need to belong is something that is essential to the human condition. However, in my humble opinion, belonging is an essential element of inclusion, not a standalone component that is not currently addressed by what DEI initiatives are supposed to entail. If inclusion is addressed without belonging, then you are creating Integration; where people with different backgrounds work alongside each other, they co-exist but are not necessarily seen or treated as equals. Having inclusion without belonging is like having diversity without representation, sort of undercuts the true intention.

Adding Belonging as separate from Inclusion, may indicate that your understanding of belonging is wrong. To better understand what inclusion should provide, check out our Workplace Culture Hierarchy.


Another conversation about what DEI is missing is Accessibility. Creating supports for accessibility is very important. In most regions, accessibility is a legal right and is required to be accommodated by both the public and private sectors. However, like with Belonging and Inclusion, Accessibility is an essential component to equity. Equity is about fair access. Without Accessibility, Equity can be mistaken as Equality. Where everyone is treated the same, rather than everyone is provided what they need to be on equal ground. 


Now this one is interesting. JEDI adds Justice to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The name may not invoke the best initial response, but the sentiment is still important to talk about. Some may feel that the justice focus could make JEDI initiatives appear to be a little combative or aligning Jedi’s (the cool ones with lightsabers) with social change might hinder creating a sense of inclusion and belonging. But, bringing justice into the DEI conversation is certainly worth talking about.

I have an IDEA

I think there is something else to bring to the discussion about what might be missing from the DEI conversation to date, and that is Agency.

When we make the required workplace changes to let everyone feel included and that they belong, we commit to representation in our recruitment and promotion efforts, backed by policies and norms that support equity, we need to let people have control of their career trajectory.

One of the common missteps that happen, even when our intentions are good, is that we place people in a box. Terms like the glass ceiling, exist because we do not allow enough agency or transparency in how we provide opportunities. A great example of this is what many people from minority communities deal with when they are hired through diversity initiatives. Often they are expected to be the official representative for the organization as a sample of the commitment made to diversity and representation. They are also given extra work and responsibility, beyond their regular job duties, to chair committees, organize events, and champion change. These two common results of DEI efforts are referred to as Tokenism and The Minority Tax, respectively.

When we incorporate a sense of agency into how people grow their career, their skills, their contacts, and improve their own performance, we are empowering them.

Now, to be clear. I am not saying Agency is missing, and the other suggested expansions I mention are wrong. I am not even saying that DEIB, EDIA, and JEDI are the only variations out there. I am saying these are all excellent conversations to have around what needs to included in DEI and how can have true transformative change in our workplaces.

My intention is that while we are exploring the growth of DEI, maybe Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Agency (IDEA) is an “idea” worth exploring.

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