September 25

The “Cake Analogy” to Understanding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

As someone who spends my free time biking or baking, and who’s dedicating the latter half of my career to creating inclusive spaces for 2SLGBTQI+, the cake analogy to understanding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) just makes sense.

Allow me to explain.

I came across the ‘cake analogy’ to describe DEI and it’s become embedded in my mind ever since. Although I was unable to locate the founder of this analogy, I cannot take credit for its conception. But, I can take credit for my interruption and understanding of it.

When it comes to educating individuals on DEI I’m keen to incorporate tangible and easy to understand concepts like the one I share below. I believe it’s important to bring lightness to a serious and sometimes uncomfortable conversation like DEI. “Doing the work” requires us to confront our prejudices and our biases. These are the parts of us as humans that favour or resist ideas and make assumptions or pass judgment on other people. Engaging on a journey to learning and growing requires us to reflect on our experiences of privilege and oppression. By connecting a task like baking a cake to understanding diversity, striving for equity and being inclusive, we’re more likely to experience those important ‘aha moments’ that help us put thoughts into action.

If you’re not a baker, it’s OK, stay with me.

If you are, let’s bake some belonging into our day, shall we?

When you set out to make a cake, there are a few very important steps you need to take:

  1. Gather all the ingredients you’ll need. (DIVERSITY)
  2. Measure the right amounts of each ingredient. (EQUITY)
  3. Mix the ingredients together. (INCLUSION)
  4. Enjoy and celebrate the outcome. (BELONGING)

 Let’s look at each step in more detail.

Step 1:

If your recipe says you’ll need flour, sugar, butter, baking soda, baking powder, eggs and vanilla then that’s what you gather. This aspect (the ingredients) represent diversity. Diversity explores the variety and differences that exist among people. This includes the unique characteristics that define who we are. It accounts for but is not limited to: language, education, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability, religion, political beliefs, and our moral compass.

Going back to your list of ingredients, if you only added flour and sugar to your bowl you would have a very different outcome then if you added the diverse list of ingredients. The same theory can be applied when looking at your team. Without welcoming a variety of individuals you fail to gain perspective from those with different backgrounds, experiences, ethnicities, gender identities and so on. In essence, you limit your company’s ability to expand, learn and grow.

Step 2:

The next step in baking a cake is to add the right amount of each ingredient. If you add 6 eggs because you “think” your cake would be better with more eggs, but your recipe asks for 2, your cake would not turn out as planned. Adding the right amount of each ingredient can be applied to creating an equitable workplace. By choosing to implement policies and procedures necessary to create an equitable workplace, you get a much better outcome.

Equity means ensuring fair and just treatment, access, and opportunity for all people  This takes into account that each person needs something different to be successful. They may not need what you think they need for success therefore equity requires communication, relationship building, adaptability and good listening skills. Equity differs from equality in that equality means to ensure all individuals are given equal opportunities, liberties, status and laws. Equality is nice and part of the equation, but it doesn’t address the differing needs that exist from person to person.

Step 3:

Before you put the cake into the pan for baking you must mix all the ingredients together. The act of mixing mimics the act of inclusion. Inclusion is putting people with different voices, opinions, experiences, edcations and backgrounds together in one room and giving each a seat at the table. It’s the action one must take in order to get the diversity to work together. Just like the ingredients of a cake needs to be mixed in order for the ingredients to do their job effectively, so does creating inclusion.

Inclusion is defined as the deliberate action of welcoming individuals to the table and giving them a voice. Inclusion ensures people feel safe and supported. When people feel safe and welcomed it will encourage them to show up as their authentic selves and gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Step 4:

I don’t know about you, but once I pull a cake out of the oven and it hasn’t dropped in the middle, I celebrate the outcome and my success. This final stage of baking a cake represents the aspect of belonging. If the right ingredients are added, in the right amounts and they’re mixed well, the outcome is an amazing cake for all to enjoy.

Belonging is a human emotional need to feel as though you’re accepted by others. It’s the sense of being part of something greater than oneself. This applies to a sense of belonging in your family, at work, your religion and in your community. Belonging is the result of implementing DEI.

Diversity is (FACT) = the right ingredients

Equity is (CHOICE) = the right amount of each ingredient 

Inclusion is (ACTION) = putting the ingredients together 

Belonging is (OUTCOME) = final product

As I mentioned earlier in this article, DEI is an in-depth concept that deserves our attention. We cannot make change overnight but the more we learn the better humans we can become. If you’re looking for a simple explanation to explain these concepts to your organization I hope this analogy proves insightful.

Regardless of where you find yourself on your DEI journey, I trust that this food based analogy has provided you with a simple yet informative foundation of knowledge. And, I apologize in advance if it leaves you with a hankering for cake!

Enjoy this article? Check out my book, Dismantling the Obstacles to Workplace Inclusion.



2SLGBTQI+, Cake Analogy to DEI, corporate DEI, DE&I, Diversity, Equity, inclusion, LGBTQ, understanding DEI

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