Time to Act. The Power of Now

By Inge Woudstra

To know what you can do, you need to know what inclusion is, and what it looks like. That way you can start behaving more inclusively.

Our Inclusive behaviours℠ theme this month has been Use of Language, and we generally find that the language around inclusion itself and what it looks like can be very confusing for people.

Those passionate about and those working on diversity and inclusion think it’s all clear. In reality, when we work with clients, we find it’s anything but. Only recently, I was working with an executive team, and each team member shared what they thought inclusion was. Answers included: fairness, making people feel welcome, no discrimination when recruiting, recruiting the best talent, celebrating a range of holidays, not working in silos, non-hierarchical working, making sure all can contribute freely, and looking after people’s mental health.

So today to help you start acting on inclusion, we would like to share with you what real inclusion means, where you can start and what to watch out for when you start acting so you can use the power of now to create real inclusion.

What does real inclusion mean?
When we talk about Diversity we mean diversity of thought; making sure that you have a wide range of perspectives around the table. Inclusion is tapping into that diversity on your team. That means you want everyone in the team to contribute their thoughts, so that you hear a wide range of perspectives. People only share those thoughts when they feel safe. They share their ideas when they know they will not be dismissed because they are the youngest, happen to be female, or speak with a different accent.

In other words, as Verna Myers says, “Diversity is being asked to the party, Inclusion is being asked to dance®”.   And remember, people will only say yes to joining you on the dance floor if they know others will not laugh at them, regardless of their dance moves. Looking at inclusion like this shows that inclusion is something everyone in your team needs to do.

Where to start with inclusion? 
Because everyone in the team needs to act inclusively, when we work with clients we start at the top. People learn about behaviour and what is and isn’t acceptable by looking at their leaders. When leaders behave more inclusively and speak up about behaviour that could be more inclusive, others follow suit. So, the executive team needs to know what inclusion looks like and what they can do to role model inclusion. That’s where you need to start.

What to watch out for when we start with inclusion? 
When we start working with the executive team, we start where they are. This is often hard for those championing diversity and inclusion, in HR and D&I teams and in ERGs. The executive team is usually just starting on the journey, and they might have some catching up to do. This can easily lead to unhelpful conversations, and those are the ones we need to watch out for.
Let me give you a few examples from our workshops, so you can avoid the mistakes others have made.
Recently, a male senior leader said, ‘I see women feel undervalued and unseen, but really, they should just learn to blow their own trumpet more and put themselves forward’. The women in the room audibly sighed and rolled their eyes. The senior leader felt dismissed, and still didn’t understand the issue. He was a few steps behind the others.  So we helped him and others understand, by sharing stories and examples of common biases in the workplace and how they contribute to women feeling undervalued and unseen.

Another white, male senior leader said, ‘I feel uncomfortable about this topic, as there doesn’t seem to be space for men anymore’. The HR partner, who is a woman of an ethnic minority background, dismissed this remark out of hand. After that, the senior leader felt uncomfortable to contribute to the conversation. I therefore pointed out that being inclusive means welcoming all perspectives, even if one disagrees with them. Once I carefully made this point in the workshop, the conversation opened up again and we had the chance to openly talk about the journey each one of us is on.

Yes, people may have a point of view that is vastly different from ours, but it’s vital we include them on our journey and take them along with us.

It’s time to act! Now is the time to start working with the executive team. And if that’s not within your power, then start by being aware of how inclusive you are in your own conversations. Are you open to those who disagree with you on inclusion? Do you take the time to listen, truly listen, to those who aren’t as far along on the journey as you are? Listen to them, because they may well have a valid perspective and you can use your insight into that perspective to help them understand the need to be more inclusive. After all, only by listening to everyone’s point of view are we ourselves being truly inclusive.