Feb 18, 2022 Culture

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion really mean?

It’s critically important when developing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy to be clear about your purpose and priorities, including who your DEI team is serving. Without definition, it’s easy to co-opt DEI as a way to maintain the status quo, help the majority feel at ease, and justify actions and behavior or lack thereof.

We often hear the argument that diversity of opinion and diversity of thought is as important or more important than demographic diversity like gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc., and that employees don’t need to identify or look a certain way in order to have different perspectives. While this may be true, greater diversity of thought comes as a result or outcome of greater demographic diversity. We ultimately cover more of the spectrum of lived experience by prioritizing demographic diversity. Diversity of thought should never be the target in and of itself. 

Using shared and common language is one way to avoid diluting the true meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It helps create consistency and ensures that everyone is coming into the conversation on the same page. Here are the ways we define and discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion at DoorDash.


We define diversity as “including or involving people with a range of different endowed traits. Some endowed traits are underrepresented in business, yet all endowed traits are overly-predictive of educational and career success.This includes but is not limited to gender, race and ethnicity, socio-economic background, physical ability, sexual orientation, age, etc. Diversity of thought follows.*” 

While we believe that all employees should feel a sense of inclusion and belonging, our DEI team is specifically dedicated to uplifting and supporting those employees who have been historically underrepresented in tech, technical roles, and startups — including women, non-binary, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino/e/a, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and multiracial employees, as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, and people with disabilities. 

Using the word diverse

When properly used, diverse is an adjective used to describe a group of people, not an individual. “Diverse” does not take the place of a specific race or ethnicity like Black or Hispanic. It also should not be used to describe someone who is underrepresented. For example, instead of saying “I spoke with a diverse candidate today,” try “I spoke with an underrepresented candidate today.” Ideally, use the most specific language you can to describe people or groups based on the information you have about them when it’s relevant to what you’re discussing.


Equity is freedom from bias or favoritism**. Equity asks the question, “what problem are we trying to solve?” Equity and equality are not the same thing, but rather equity is a way in which equality is achieved. Equality is about inputs and equity is about the outcome***. Equity may require unequal inputs in order to get the same outcome. 


We define inclusion as “the act of being included in a system or structure. Inclusion is created in policies, procedures, social norms, language, word choice, etc****.” In other words, inclusion is the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions. Inclusion does not mean everyone should feel comfortable to say and do whatever they want, especially when it causes harm. Instead, organizations should have shared values and clear expectations for behavior. See more about how we think about inclusion here

Diversity + Equity + Inclusion

The reason we use all three terms – diversity, equity, and inclusion – is to develop a holistic approach and strategy. For our purposes, inclusion alongside diversity specifically refers to how we experience a sense of belonging or not based on our various intersecting identities. And because of the structures and systems we’ve created and continue to reinforce, we know there’s inherently inclusion for some and not for others based on the color of someone’s skin, gender, sexuality, and physical ability.

If what we are truly trying to solve is for everyone to feel a sense of belonging, we know that will require unequal inputs to get to the same outcome (equity) and as a result, we must intentionally and deliberately prioritize the experience of underrepresented groups. As a DEI team, our goal is not to think about inclusion as “how to bear hug everyone” because some people have already been hugged over and over again. Our goal is to BEGIN to hug those who historically were hugged very little or not hugged at all. 

Thank you to Nicole Sanchez at Vaya Consulting for graciously sharing her organization’s definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her support and guidance helped create the foundation for the shared language we continue to use at DoorDash today. Check out her DEI consulting services here!

* –   Vaya Consulting

** – Merriam Webster

*** – Vaya Consulting

**** – Vaya Consulting

About the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Digest:

Increasing representation of underrepresented talent and creating a space for all employees to thrive continues to be an industry challenge. As we strive to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities within our company, industry, and cities, we are committed to sharing best practices, learnings, and insights through this ongoing series created by our DEI team.