Business Leadership Today

What Are the Principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

What Are the Principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?

While the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has been around for quite a while, more companies are making commitments to support DEI these days and looking for ways to implement policies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion in different areas of business. 

As DEI efforts have increased, the principles that inform DEI have been misrepresented by some who argue against DEI’s benefits. This has led to an uptick in misinformation on DEI, which has created a great deal of confusion around the subject and resulted in a push in some areas of corporate America to undo years of progress

But companies that cave to anti-DEI rhetoric do so at their own peril and risk losing their competitive edge when it comes to innovation, performance, and recruitment. 

This is why it’s so important to have informed discussions on DEI that focus on the true meaning of its principles and how those principles function together to support all team members and ensure sustainable success for businesses. 

The principles of DEI are diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI provides a conceptual framework for supporting the full participation of all, particularly underrepresented members of society, and champions fair treatment. DEI initiatives benefit businesses in a variety of ways, from recruitment to profitability. 

This article will explore the principles of DEI and how those principles can inform policies and decisions that support team members and create many benefits for businesses.

The Principles of DEI

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI describes policies and initiatives that support and promote the representation and participation of different groups of individuals regardless of age, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. 

The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion are different but interrelated concepts. 


Diversity encompasses the range of similarities and differences each individual brings to the workplace, including (but not limited to) language, race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status.

Diversity acknowledges the ways in which people differ, including race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, and ability, but diversity in the workplace also refers to diversity in how people think.


Gallup defines equity as the fair treatment, access, and advancement of each person in an organization, including fairness in pay, fairness in daily work experiences, and opportunities for advancement.

It’s important to note the difference between equality and equity. Equality is the state of being equal in terms of rights and opportunities, while equity makes allowances for how differences in gender, race, age, etc., can impact rights and opportunities. Equity focuses on achieving equal outcomes and helping diverse groups achieve success and a higher quality of life by providing equal access to opportunities.


Inclusion is defined as “the policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.” 

Inclusion is about creating an environment where all team members, regardless of their differences, can thrive and fully participate. 

In DEI, the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion function together in ways that support fair and respectful work environments for all. DEI initiatives, strategies, and policies are focused on equal access and equal opportunity for the underrepresented and promoting diverse backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to improve business sustainability and recruitment processes.

These initiatives help organizations identify and eliminate policies, practices, and behaviors that are biased.

How Does DEI Benefit Business?

According to Trish Foster, executive director at the Center for Women and Business, workers are shaped by their backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and personalities. And organizations see big benefits when they have cultures that embrace these differences.   

Foster says, “Organizations that blend people who think differently from each other—analytical workers, conceptual thinkers, creative spirits, or detail-oriented employees—can create energy to drive new ideas and productivity.” 

Here are just a few ways that DEI can benefit businesses:


Eliminating bias and discriminatory practices from the selection process can open up the recruitment process to a wider pool of highly qualified candidates and improve the overall quality of hires. It can also have a positive effect on how potential candidates view the company.


Research found that 86% of millennial women considered diversity and inclusion policies important. According to a 2018 Randstad study, 78% of employees surveyed said they valued equal workplaces. As Gen Z—a generation of workers that has demonstrated strong support for diversity, equity, and inclusion—continues to enter the workforce, this percentage is expected to grow. 


Inclusive environments that champion diversity and equity can improve engagement, which can profoundly impact employee and team performance and increase cultural alignment. 

When all employees are treated like valued members of the team, it builds trust and commitment. This helps employees engage with their work, commit to achieving goals, and stay motivated to perform at their best. 


Fostering a sense of belonging is key to engaging employees and building camaraderie among team members, which can positively impact collaboration. 

The sense of belonging employees feel when they work in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment unites them with a shared sense of purpose that can boost collaborative efforts. 


Better collaboration will inevitably lead to better innovation. Organizations can benefit immensely from including diverse points of view because they spur innovation, make teams more adaptable, lead to creative solutions, and create unique opportunities for collaboration with team members and clients. 

Organizations with above-average diversity scores have reported higher innovation revenues.

Customer Satisfaction

Organizations are better able to serve diverse groups of customers and avoid marketing approaches that fall flat when they have diverse teams. Truly leveraging the power of diverse teams requires an inclusive culture where diverse perspectives are embraced. 

Remember: representation matters to customers, so it should matter to the businesses that serve them. 

Customer Satisfaction


Employees will leave an organization where they do not feel psychologically safe, heard, or valued. They are more likely to stay in an organization with inclusive policies that support a sense of belonging and an appreciation for the diverse perspectives and needs of all employees. 

An inclusive work culture not only makes employees more comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work each and every day but also increases their loyalty and sense of purpose at work, which is great for retention.


As you might imagine, when companies can attract top talent and improve engagement, collaboration, innovation, customer service, and retention, profitability improves. 

Whatever one’s personal views are on the topic of DEI, there is no denying the financial impact DEI can have on an organization. According to a 2012 McKinsey study, US companies with diverse executive boards had a 95% higher return on equity than those that lacked diversity. 

Why We Need DEI

When teams lack diverse team members, they may also suffer from a lack of diversity of thought, which is essential for creativity and innovation. Without diversity of thought, it’s harder to generate the sort of ideas that lead to new solutions and products or grow the customer base.

When teams lack equity, team members may feel that they aren’t being supported and won’t achieve their full potential in the organization. This can cause disengagement, dissatisfaction, and turnover to increase.

When teams lack an inclusive work environment, it makes them more susceptible to toxic practices and behaviors, which can lead to disengagement, increase turnover, and hurt profits. 

Customer Satisfaction

Supporting DEI can help companies avoid the financial losses that result from disengagement and turnover and help them build diverse teams of fully engaged employees who bring a wide range of experiences and knowledge to the table that can be invaluable in a rapidly changing business world.   

The debate over DEI may rage on, but any business that wants to survive and thrive in the future will struggle to do so without DEI. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

Others Recent Articles and Podcast Episodes

Would you like to dramatically improve employee engagement?

Get a free training video that will show you how to double the number of engaged, motivated employees in just a few months.