In The Name of EDI

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

At the beginning of March, we encouraged each other to “Inspire Inclusion” for International Women’s Day.  To us, Inclusion is inspired, or successfully created, when people are able to contribute with their very finest thinking, without limitation or restriction.  When they don’t have to spend emotional energy on worrying how what they say might be (mis)interpreted and know that the only way their thoughts and ideas will be received is with encouragement and support.  As a result, they can dig deep into their experience and cast a wide net for ideas in order to contribute with their freshest thinking.

It’s been said on many occasions that Voice At The Table is known for its inclusive approach (amongst other things).  So, this has got me thinking: What is it that we do as a matter of course that makes people say this?

This is what I have observed in our interactions with others:

Five things we do that create Inclusion 

1. We listen before we speak. 

It sounds like such a cliché to say this.  The fact remains, very few of us can do it well.  Listening to hear the person, not just to wait for our turn to speak. Listening to understand and encourage further thinking, not to agree or disagree with the point they’ve made.  Listening to allow a person to go where they need to go in their thinking, not to rush ahead and finish their sentence for them.  This kind of listening requires discipline.  And it’s incredibly difficult to do. It is a leadership skill in scarce supply – the ultimate challenge!  It’s so much easier to think that sharing our experience is more valuable to others than what they might have to say.

Listening ranges from everyday superficial listening – the kind of listening you and I do all the time – to active listening (where we look out for things that aren’t said), to generative listening (the kind of attentive listening that generates the finest thinking in the speaker), to extreme listening.   Do you have the skills to listen at all these levels?  It’s something we are working on with clients all the time.

2. We are comfortable with vulnerability.  

Being vulnerable is scary.  We might come across as foolish, unknowing, inexperienced or weak.  Who wants that?  And yet, being comfortable with vulnerability is in fact a strength.  It invites more meaningful insights and builds trust.  When a person feels safe being vulnerable, they are laying their trust in another to hold that vulnerability.  They trust that they won’t be judged, and that frees up emotional energy.

We honour people by not judging them.  By showing that we are not better than they are, we are maybe just a few steps ahead on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) journey. We create a space where people don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about their unconscious bias. We understand that leaders may not have needed to focus on becoming an inclusive leader or creating diverse and inclusive teams in the past.  We know that, if we manage to make people feel safe being vulnerable, we have managed to open their minds and prepare them for a mindset shift.

3. We call out biases in a safe and friendly way.  We all have them!  

Those who feel safe and have the courage to be vulnerable with us generally also want to learn about their biases.  By understanding that all brains are biased, we can begin to identify and mitigate the biases that create the biggest obstacles to creating Diversity in the workplace.  We work together to uncover the seemingly benign everyday statements that hide underlying judgments and assumptions; statements that might limit a person’s progress or make them feel unwelcomed or unvalued.   Together we explain, discuss and find ways to recognise and address circumstances in which these statements and behaviours might arise.  In this way, we increase the levels of self-awareness to understand when one might say something innocently meant and yet cutting; we develop strong antennae that help people predict when something they might say may land clumsily at the feet of another (we call this empathy).  In this way, disrupting biased behaviours and practices at work becomes a more achievable, realistic target.

4. We think before we speak (most of the time). 

Of course, we don’t always know the right thing to say, and we have all put our foot in it from time to time.  That’s understandable and to be expected.  All we ask – and practise ourselves – is that we think before we speak.  A short pause to consider how what one might say might be received goes a long way to limit embarrassment and prevent potentially undoing the progress that’s being made towards Inclusion.  This is particularly true for those of us who are leaders. Leaders cast long shadows – and a whisper by a leader is heard as a shout. Leaders therefore have even more of a responsibility to think before they speak.  If only someone shared this advice with some of the more prominent global figures who irresponsibly utter the most thoughtless and harmful things out loud.

5. We notice when we judge or assume.  

It might be impossible to never judge or make assumptions, but we can develop a habit of noticing when we do this and ask ourselves: So what?  How does what we assume about another matter?  And once we’ve learned to do this, it is impossible to unlearn.  We hear and see judgments and assumptions everywhere – how we look at someone with ink all over their body, how someone else goes out of their way to be polite and respectful to one person and doesn’t even look at the face of another who is judged to be less trustworthy, how people assume things about us based entirely on societal prejudices and expectations.  We also know that we can’t change what others do, but we can change how we behave, so we can be a bit more forgiving, not jump to conclusions, and overcome erroneous first impressions by giving people a chance.  That is what we do.

Inspiring Inclusion isn’t as easy as it seems.  It requires a whole set of different behaviours, an outlook on life and an attitude that sees others for their positive contributions rather than seeing them as being in competition with us for a scarce resource.  It’s a way of being rather than an action here and there – and that requires practice.  Bit by bit, step by step.  And once you’ve acquired a few of these new habits, start passing them on.  Then you can honestly say that you too know how to inspire Inclusion.

Suggested Reading

Leading the EDI Transition

Being EDI-Minded: The Quickest Path from A to B