article August 24, 2023

Dissecting DEI & Where We Went Wrong: Part One, Diversity

In this three-part series, Javara Director, DEI & Community Engagement Ashley C Moultrie, CCRP dissects the acronym “DEI” to illuminate how many of the definitions circulating in our modern society fall short, or at times, lead us entirely astray. Using the analogy below, Ashley walks us through each stage of meaning and what we can do to increase our understanding.


Diversity is being invited into the boardroom; Inclusion is being given a seat at the table; Equity is how justly you’re treated during the conversations happening therein.


Part One, Diversity

Recent years have brought forth amplified efforts to address Diversity, within the clinical research industry and well beyond. DEI initiatives now encompass our every day – and for good reason. But these efforts have not come without detriment. It is my aim in this three-part series to illuminate where we went wrong – and how we can move forward – by dissecting our widely accepted understanding of D-E-I one step at a time, beginning with Diversity.

Before diving in, it is important first to understand that we cannot have Diversity without Equity and Inclusion. While the acronym reads D-E-I, the reality is that we must discuss Inclusion before Equity. There are many historical factors and unsound belief systems that have led to the current confusion and misconceptions about what DEI truly stands for, perhaps the most prominent being that many focus too heavily on Diversity alone.

Sadly, I feel strongly that this stems largely from a collective resistance to change. The reality is that we currently operate in a system that works for the majority of people in power. At times, one might even just say the majority. In either case, minorities such as women, people of color, those who are differently abled, or LGBTQ+, are excluded.

DEI is hard for many people to understand – or accept – on a fundamental level. Why? Because it requires one to acknowledge the reality of power dynamics and the role, they play in deploying systemic change. Those in positions of authority, and in turn those most closely associated with structures, behaviors, and decisions they employ, have a choice that many do not. Acknowledgement. If something does not affect them, they do not have to open their eyes to it. And more often than not, they don’t. Because they are comfortable.

Such a mindset is extremely limiting as it fails to recognize that the very things one chooses to ignore consciously may manifest as life-altering for the person right beside them. To be aware of that position and still choose self-comfort is to choose disregard for the experiences of others. Unfortunately, I do believe that is where much of the DEI misconception and lack of understanding begins. We need collective resolutions in order to live out DEI to its full potential and affect real change. But that requires not only collective action but collective responsibility.

Diversity is a vital first step. And make no mistake, each day that we make the conscious decision to acknowledge the lived experiences of others and work toward a collective resolution that does not discriminate, that is a win. Diversity means inviting in the historically marginalized. And we are – though at times the incentives may fall short of sincerity. But we must begin somewhere. Advancing representation in the boardroom? That is huge. But do I have a seat?

The common misconception of DEI is amplified by the collective failure of both industry and society to understand how limiting this situation remains. The implication among many is that by inviting me in, you have given me a seat. But that is not necessarily true.

Enter, Inclusion.