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Mar 29, 2024

The Importance of Defining DEI 

with Professor LaChaun Banks

By Asiah Graham, Class of 2026

Diversity, equity, and inclusion, three words that can mean different things and evoke different reactions. The definition of DEI can encompass a variety of experiences and backgrounds. How can an organization measure progress with DEI without having a consensus on what it means?

In BUSI 120: Exploring the Intersection of Business & Society (a class taken by sophomores in the Luther Hodges Scholars Program) one of our objectives is toparticipate in discussions of real-life issues. Professor LaChaun Banks, a research fellow at the Kenan Institute and Kenan-Flagler Professor of the Practice with experience in cross-sector collaborations, visited our class as a guest speaker.Professor Banks’ goal for her presentation was to “to provide us with the tools tolead a diverse group towards a common goal, through a cross-sector lens”.

“How can you know if you’re actually moving, if you don’t define what you are moving toward?” Professor Banks asked, emphasizing the importance of first defining DEI. To define what it needs to make progress in an organization’s unique situation. For example, when working with the City of Chicago to improve economic development, Professor Banks worked on the shared definition of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the city. In turn, this definition was used to assess and measure progress.

Through an interesting analogy, Professor Banks makes the differences between the three terms, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions quite apparent. In her analogy, she compares diversity to a group of people from different backgrounds coming to a table to enjoy a dinner of duck. Inclusion involves this same group coming to dinner, but first asked of their preferences. Lastly, equity is this group creating the menu and beingserved their preferences. This analogy resonated with me as I could finally understand the difference between the three terms in a way that is easy to remember.

“In what ways are we diverse other than race or gender?”, Professor Banksasked.

Although observable traits get spoken about the most, in her presentation, ProfessorBanks went deeper. Personality, culture, and neurodiversity are some other non-observable characteristics we came up with as a class. This portion of the discussion helped me to appreciate the many ways we are all different.

In our final exercise titled, “Privilege for Sale”, we were randomly placed in groups of 4-6 and told we were leaders of a company. Each group was instructed toselect the top four cards (out of 12) with DEI-related statements (such as “applying for a promotion with worrying your name holding you back”) that were most important toeach group to implement. During the discussion, I noticed that each group had differentideas of what they thought was most important. These ideas were based on past experiences. I felt challenged by having to decide what could be important for the majority, without leaving out lesser represented groups. This exercise was truly impactful.

Lastly, Professor Banks shared advice. As future leaders, to ensure that a diverse group of people work towards a common goal, we must promote an environment of inclusion and empathy, celebrate collective success, and openlydiscuss power dynamics and other structural issues. Spoken wisely by Professor Banks, “The more you talk to people that have different experiences, the more knowledge you gain.”

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