Equity Ethics: A Moral Choice

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

October 29, 2021

‘Morals’ and ‘ethics’ are at the heart of today’s equity discussions, particularly when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns (DEI). Eons of social evolution have prioritized the rights and opportunities of some (primarily white males) while reducing options and opportunities for others (females, people of color). However, the burgeoning diversity of the American population is eroding the unspoken acquiescence to immoral ‘standards’ that enrich the one group at the expense of the other. Instead, communities want to see a morally driven, ethical ‘standard’ that levels the playing field and offers all participants equal opportunities to work, earn, and thrive personally, socially, and economically. In short, communities want more than just talk about expanding corporate diversity; they want to actually see those morals in action as the ethical directives that will change how every company does business moving forward.   


Institutional Morals (Beliefs) Ground Institutional Ethics (Actions) 

Today’s roiled social and political climate has revealed some deeply embedded cultural practices that are both immoral (fundamentally unfair) and unethical (enforced rules that favor some participants over others). For example, unequal compensation practices allow companies to pay male workers more than female workers for doing the same job. More than ever before, the community is now looking more closely at how organizations are managing situations like that, where ‘standard’ corporate policy unfairly rewards some workers over others for no apparent reason other than their color, race, or gender. The challenge is to discern precisely what any individual company is doing about its DEI concerns, which is especially difficult in corporations of size. With those, it’s challenging to identify where or how embedded discrimination systems exist and, especially, how the organization can end them. 

In 2011, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, introduced its Cultural Diversity Lens (Lens) to measure and analyze corporate program activities through a cultural diversity perspective. While aimed specifically at entities (governments, school systems, etc.) engaged in economic and social development projects, the Lens applies to any organization seeking to ensure equity and equality for all its participants. It is intended to be used throughout a project’s life cycle:

From the beginning, developers design the process and goals to ensure that diversity concerns are explored and included in all planning activities.

During the development stage, the Lens helps leaders implement strategies and construction elements that include DEI initiatives.

Throughout the active life of the program as a monitoring tool, the Lens ensures DEI activities remain on track and embedded within the fundamental culture of the enterprise.

As an evaluation tool, the Lens tracks and measures the project’s success based on its DEI metrics as well as other relevant metrics. 

Using the UNESCO Lens, any organization can evaluate its DEI activities and pivot its actions to a more appropriate practice based on Lens-relate data.  


One Framework: Five Themes   

Five themes populate the Lens framework, each of which explores the activities embedded within a specific corporation element. Following the order of the framework ensures that leadership evaluates all relevant DEI aspects of the enterprise:

Theme 1: The Cultural Diversity of the Program in the Context of its Community

This theme evaluates the company or program as a whole, including where and how it sits within its community, how it pursues its fundamental purpose, its management of its legal and institutional parameters, and its socio-economic dimensions. The theme’s purpose is to determine the greater community’s cultural diversity standards and whether the corporation is complying with them. 

Theme 2: Diversity of Perspectives

This theme explores how various diverse opinions and insights were/are incorporated into the programs’ development and implementation. Did decisions made in the planning and implementation stages include and respect the perspectives of all stakeholders? Beneficiaries? Identifying and listening to unheard voices reduces tension points throughout all stages of the project.

Theme 3: Access and Participation

This theme looks at how the organization facilitates project access to relevant populations and the extent to which they participate in its functions. It provides directions on determining whether that access is culturally appropriate and where barriers might exist that prevent full participation by stakeholders.

Theme 4: Cultural Heritage

This theme investigates the connections between the project and the inherent cultures of its participants and community. In too many cases, dominating cultures have trampled the heritage of indigenous communities, which ultimately reduces the values of both populations. UNESCO encourages intentional connections between the project and the heritages of its stakeholders to enhance project success. 

Theme 5: Economic Dimensions

This theme explores how the embrace and promotion of diverse backgrounds and cultures can enhance the economic fortunes of both the program and its participants. 

The Cultural Diversity Lens gives every organization the tools it needs to identify DEI gaps in its existing structure, assess options to remediate those, and strategies to achieve a more balanced, more fair, and more productive enterprise.      


Following Leaders

Some entities are better than others at correcting and then preventing the moral and ethical challenges that impede social and economic progress. Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, provides professional management services in a wide range of economies and industrial sectors, including cybersecurity, analytics, and digital solutions to complex problems. In 2021, it was also ranked by Forbes as the world’s best employer for women and the world’s second-best employer for diversity. Its DEI efforts encompass all underrepresented populations, including women, people with disabilities, veterans and military families, the LGTBQ+ community, and others. The company’s 100 years of success are founded on its belief that talent, in whatever form or presentation, provides the true foundation for corporate and economic success. 

DEI concerns can arise in any situation, and many companies are taking ethical action and working to eradicate those divides from their enterprise activities.  

During Pasadena City College’s Future of Work Conference, Tuesday, November 9, from 9:00 am to 11:30 am (register here), attendees will hear how panelists approach DEI initiatives in their career arena, whether that’s in government, higher education, or industry.     


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