Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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Intersectionality and Unconscious Bias

by June Reinert, DE&I La Crosse Branch Coordinator

May Newsletter

When discussing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, it is important to understand the nuances of the language we use.

1: the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups

Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality in her work Mapping the Margins. She noted that scholars often look at outcomes for women or for African Americans, but never look at what happens to African American women whose lives are impacted by the ways these multiple sources of oppression interact. Understanding intersectionality gives us a way of understanding the cumulative effect of discrimination and oppression on people. That’s not that one person’s oppression is greater than another’s; it’s a way of recognizing that our experiences may not be the same because inequality is a complex phenomenon.

Here’s an example familiar to AAUW members: Pay equity. We know that men and women are paid unequally for equal work: on average, women make 82¢ for every dollar that a white man makes. But did you know that moms make 70¢ on that same dollar? Or that Latinas make just 55¢? These are just a few examples of intersectionality and how parental status, or ethnicity intersect with gender to impact pay equity.

Definition of unconscious
1 : not marked by conscious thought, sensation, or feeling
2 : not knowing or perceiving : not aware
3 : not consciously held or deliberately planned or carried out

Definition of bias
1 : an inclination of temperament or outlook especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : prejudice

We all know what overt biases are, but we all have unconscious biases, too. These are biases that might be inconsistent with our values, that we would never knowingly act on and that we weren’t even aware we had. And having them doesn’t make us racist or sexist or homophobic, etc… At any given, moment we are bombarded with lots of information, but our brains can only process a fraction of it at once. To help us try and make sense of the world around us, our brain uses short cuts. Those short cuts are shaped and informed by our experiences. But, because sometimes the things we need to make sense of are unfamiliar, bias can enter the picture.

For example, here is an image, what do you see? Triangles, circles? This is the Kanizsa Triangle. Most people see a solid white triangle pointing upwards, an inverted triangle pointing downwards, and a set of black discs. But the fact is, none of these shapes are present in the figure; this image is of “pac-men” and V’s, not triangles and circles. This is an example of our unconscious mind using familiar information to try and make sense of what it sees, because in the absence of complete information, our mind needed to rely on something to help us figure it out. So, what can you do?

1. Self-awareness is the first step
2. Create safe spaces to have open discussions about the biases you have
3. Increase your contact with people who are dissimilar
4. Set realistic expectations

We’re not going to be able to change our unconscious mind over night, but we will be able to make progress. Only when we confront our biases are we able to truly recognize the value diversity brings to an organization like AAUW. It’s important for our continued growth and sustainability as an organization to make a concerted effort to be inclusive and create spaces where everyone feels welcome.


“Dealing with Diversity can be Daunting”
by June Reinert, DE&I La Crosse Branch Coordinator 
April Newsletter

Key Terms & Concepts
When discussing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, it is important to understand the nuances of the language we use.

Definition of diversity
1: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety especially : the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization programs intended to promote diversity in schools.
2: an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities : an instance of being diverse a diversity of opinion.

Variety. That’s what diversity means in essence. But it also means that recognizing what makes us different and unique is important and, without taking diversity into consideration, we run the risk of excluding some individual.

Definition of Inclusion
1 : the act of including : the state of being included.
2 : the act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality or ability).

Diversity vs. Inclusion
Diversity refers to characteristics, the dimensions that make each of us unique. Inclusion entails behaviors and actions that make us feel welcomed or not. An environment that creates a sense of belonging, where everyone feels welcomed and included, is essential for the success of diversity efforts.

To be truly inclusive, we often must change the culture that in environments where people feel supported, welcomed, respected, and valued are actually more productive; everyone feels a greater connection to the organization’s mission.

As diversity advocate Verna Myers once said, “Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” If you don’t have both, neither works.

Inclusion vs. Belonging

So, if diversity means the characteristics that make us unique, and inclusion refers to behaviors and actions, then what is belonging? Belonging is feeling like you are a part of something, that you actually you matter. AAUW needs all of these things together — diversity, inclusion, and belonging — for our branches to continue to grow and thrive.

Definition of equity
1a : justice according to natural law or right specifically : freedom from bias or favoritism.
1b : something that is equitable.

Every AAUW member should understand what we mean by equity. After all, we are the nation’s premier organization fighting for gender equity.

Equity vs. Equality

Although these two words have the same root, they don’t mean the same thing. They are often used interchangeably, even though they differ in meaning. Equality means everyone gets the same access to — or amount of — something. Equity, by contrast, is about everyone having equal access to what they need to be successful. And those needs can be quite different.