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Equal Access Issues: Diversity/Inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion are often discussed as going hand-in-hand with each other. For the most part, that's true. Today, we will discuss some subtle distinctions between the two, so that we can better understand how they are ultimately different from each other.


Diversity can be simply defined as "unlikeness; difference". Basically, if you have a work environment made up of several unique, distinct subpopulations, you will have diversity. The same goes for academia, and in public.

Diversity and inclusion can produce impressive results, like this investigation team, comprised of a catholic priest, an agnostic psychologist and atheist equipment handler.

Inclusion on the other hand can be defined as "the practice or policy of including and integrating all people and groups in activities, organizations, political processes, etc., especially those who are disadvantaged, have suffered discrimination, or are living with disabilities:" While this definition seems much more complex and complicated, the keywords to note here are "practice" and "policy". In other words, inclusion requires action, whereas diversity is a thing that exists as long as there are differences or unlikeness in the world.


Why is this important? Because you can be diverse without being inclusive and vice versa. The two terms do not necessarily depend on one another, even though in practice, we hear them being used together. To further illustrate this point, I will provide a couple of abstract and real examples of how one can exist without the other.


Take a bag of skittles, for example. Inside the bag, there are many different pieces of candy which make up one entire bag of skittles. They have many different flavors. They have many different colors. However, at the end of the day, no matter how diverse the skittles are within the bag, you can only find skittles in there. There will be no other round little candies in the bag, such as M&M's or Reese's Pieces, and it is unlikely there will ever be these types of candies in there, unless there is a manufacturing accident at the candy factory.


However, we can include these other candies ourselves, by taking out a large mixing bowl, opening bags of M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, and Skittles, and giving it a good mix. This takes action on our part, which is where the distinction lies between diversity and inclusion.


Now, we will apply this idea to something that is a little less abstract. In a graduate program, you have to assemble what is called a guidance committee to help guide you through your dissertation work, and so that you can hopefully graduate. Most of the time, these individuals are going to be faculty in your school and/or department, and will be able to provide experience and knowledge to help you get through your program. These individuals are likely to be diverse in that they may be experts in different fields, but at the end of the day, your options will be limited, and there are certain people that won't be included in your committee. You're not going to invite your best friend, a pastor (a literal layman), or a New York Times Bestselling Author. You could try, but you ultimately won't be very successful in trying to achieve this goal.


This brings us to our next point. Sometimes, there are reasons why we can't be inclusive, and that's OK. Including your church pastor to assist on your dissertation project on Higgs Bosons just wouldn't make sense. That is not to say that the layman doesn't have life experiences and insight. These experiences may not be directly relevant to your project however, and he or she won't be able to give you much actual guidance on how to progress. You can nevertheless try to put together a guidance committee like this, and see how far you get.


On the other hand, there are moments where it does make sense to have inclusion, such as in the workplace. This is why many major companies will have multiple departments full of several different kinds of people, including IT, engineering, finance, accounting, business, etc. If we didn't have diversity in these departments, and if we didn't create an inclusive environment, there would be no creative solutions. Everyone would tend to think the same, which also means that everyone would get stuck the same way, whenever a problem emerges.


The point is you need both diversity and inclusion in a workplace. The diversity and inclusion also have to make common sense. While this may seem like common sense, the tricky part is that both of these terms are different from each other. You can have diversity without inclusion. Can you have inclusion without diversity though? In any case, if you do not have both of these things, your institution's ability to thrive will be substantially stifled.


That said, I think I will stop here. Enjoy the rest of your week, and I hope to see you again soon.

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