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Equity Is for Everyone: Tips for Applying DEI Principles to Improve Your Organization

As we enter our third year of a global pandemic and the social justice movement that evolved alongside it, institutions and teams of all sizes are grappling with a long-term vision and strategy towards Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI).

How can we apply DEI principles meaningfully to the work we do? 

Who’s responsible for its success? 

And where do we get started?

Leaders from University of Utah Health and Morehouse School of Medicine share their secret—that DEI work is the work of all, and infusing equity through all aspects of an organization not only affects system change but defines it. Below, they share some best practices for approaching DEI work and improving health equity within your institution and community.

1. Center community at all stages.

When you're co-designing anything with the community—a project, campaign, or event—don't tell the community what they need. Ask them. Community members are the resident experts here. When you actively include them in the process, their feedback and engagement only improves the quality and outcomes of your work.

You need to check your egos at the door here; community collaboration has to center the people in front of you to best serve their needs.

2. Language matters.

Language plays a huge role in how institutions build relationships and trust with community audiences. Be aware of the ways you speak to and about the communities you serve, avoid deficit-based language that places blame on the individual rather than the system, and prioritize having a team that can help “translate” messages for different audiences as needed. 

This language also extends to the way we discuss our mission. Share institutional priorities with the community, and community priorities with institutional leadership. This creates clarity and helps actors identify shared values.

3. Equity is for everyone.

DEI and community collaboration go hand-in-hand. In a world where both are short-staffed, find ways to leverage and collaborate with each other.

Often, the onus of DEI work is placed upon team members who identify as BIPOC or come from historically-marginalized groups. This can place a burden on these individuals while releasing others of accountability.

DEI is for everyone. Empower all team members to find their place and passion in DEI work. Driving equity is not a separate criteria for excellence but crucial to achieving excellence in all areas. DEI improves belonging, efficiency, profitability, and work performance, for all.

4. Make work manageable, and measurable.

Build DEI and community collaboration into standard operating procedures so it becomes the norm, not the exception. Regularly ask: Who’s most impacted? Who are we centering? Who are we leaving out? Weave equity into everything you do to streamline improvements and reduce your team’s adjustment period to change.

It also helps to tie DEI goals to institutional strategy and tailor DEI education and initiatives to your specific team or organization’s needs. This first part allows you to demonstrate value alongside your system’s priorities, while the second helps you narrow scope enough to see measurable impact

5. Systemic issues require systemic solutions. Prioritize top-down policy alongside grassroots efforts.

Stakeholder and executive leadership buy-in is just as important as efforts on the individual and small team level. Encourage leaders to explore how DEI fits into their personal strategy. It’s not enough for leaders to encourage or praise DEI; they need to model it.

When it comes to community collaboration, have senior leaders converse directly with the community. This means more than volunteer events and photo ops, but active conversations and regular feedback opportunities