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EDI – what does it really mean?

by Osaro Otobo | Mar 7, 2022 | Strategy & Transformation

‘EDI’ is an acronym that is used regularly now that more institutions are focusing on this type of work. However, ‘EDI’ can mean many things to different people and that can create challenges if the assumption is that everyone has the same level of understanding.

EDI means ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ to many people. However, over the years there has been a shift towards the ‘E’ standing for ‘Equity’. This change recognises that different groups of people need different levels of support and therefore should not be treated exactly the same. For many people from underrepresented and marginalised backgrounds, they would like institutions to recognise their unique needs and challenges they face, and to provide support or development opportunities accordingly.

Some people use ‘EDI’ when really they are just talking about improving diversity. Indeed, sometimes when using ‘EDI’ or ‘diversity’, the focus is on one specific demographic or protected characteristic like race or gender, yet it is not labelled on a granular level as such. This lack of clarity can leave many underrepresented and marginalised groups feeling like their experience doesn’t matter in the EDI work of their institution, because they don’t see themselves being included.

For many people from underrepresented and marginalised groups, the word ‘diversity’ can often induce feelings of scepticism. Many institutions claim to want more diversity and that they appreciate diversity, but a lot of the time it can be perceived as insincere and merely a box-ticking exercise, especially when they may have a poor track record on acting against inequalities. In these circumstances, diversity is superficial and is not embedded into the institution’s strategy and culture.

Most of the focus is on bringing ‘diversity’ in, and institutions often forget about the important steps – how do we make sure that these voices are heard and empowered, have the influence to make meaningful change, and feel safe and valued in this space? This is where ‘inclusion’ comes in. I’ve seen often how little focus can be placed on ‘inclusion’ when talking about EDI. Policies, procedures, and plans must allow individuals to bring their whole and authentic selves to the institution.

Meaningful EDI work is proactive, not reactive or passive. EDI work cannot be seen as an ‘add-on’ or low priority. It must be a core part of the inner workings of the institution. It needs to be something that people at all levels of an institution understand, from the Board and Vice-Chancellor to staff and students and alumni.

Everyone needs to understand what EDI means to their institution, what actions are being taken, who is responsible for those actions, when the actions will be completed, and what part they play in the progression of this work because EDI is everyone’s responsibility. Building a truly equitable, diverse and inclusive community must be a goal for every higher education institution as it is vital for them in their mission.  It must be part of every decision and action.  This is what EDI really means.

At Halpin we are committed to building an inclusive and diverse team of consultants that can truly serve the HE sector and its diverse communities. We are committed to building EDI into all our consultancy work and we offer specialist EDI services to our clients.  Our EDI team and services can be found here.