To be inclusive we need to look at what exclusion feels like

  • 13 JUNE 2022
  • 5 min read

Focused hiring, vigilant policies and top management sponsorship can enable an organization to build a diverse talent profile. We know this and are already seeing the excellent work that so many organizations are doing in this area.

However, “inclusion” – a sense where everyone feels safe and celebrated is not easily obtained. Like all aspects of culture, creating psychological safety is an organic process and hence takes time and courage.

In one of the inclusion labs that we facilitate, I was very moved to hear the different stories at the tables. What was so humbling, was that not only were people sharing stories where they experienced “otherness”, but that people were listening to stories where their actions or omissions may have made someone experience “otherness”. Like all our engagements, we came away richer for what we learn from our experiences. Sharing some of the learnings here:

1. Spaces for reflection allow us to access our curious selves – The conversations allowed people to look at an experience with curiosity and humility rather than defensiveness. My favorite moment was when one of the managers said – “I am shocked to hear about this experience (he was referring to an experience of feeling excluded, reported by someone at the table) and how common it is. I would have never accepted this because I have never ever experienced this.” He went on to resolve that going forward he would pay attention and ensure this would never happen in his team.

2. The experience of “otherness” is more prevalent than we think – Everyone is worried about how they look and there is always some space or area where this fear comes alive. The conversations flowed more easily when we asked – “When did you experience fear of being left out” as it equalized the space for everyone to recognize that this can happen to anyone and everyone.

3. Compassion begets compassion - Compassion is more than care, kindness, concern and empathy. Compassion is an action verb originating from the Latin root meaning “to struggle with.” The word means “we are in this together”. It was powerful to see the leaders in the team innately valuing each other’s experience, recognizing everyone’s capability to contribute and taking collective responsibility for taking baby steps.

4. Working together enables “seeing” group dysfunctional processes which would not be visible to an individual reflection – The rhythms of daily business do not allow for collective sense-making of human processes – especially those that are unexpressed and sometimes dysfunctional. But when the teams sat and spoke about it together, the collectiveness seemed to empower the group to see aspects about themselves that they may have struggled to accept by themselves.

Inclusion requires a compassion mindset, a fundamental shift in how we see ourselves and others that makes it possible for us to embrace inclusion. This shift may be difficult for an individual to make alone, but as a group and over cups of coffee – this journey becomes easier.

My visual and dream of a diverse and inclusive group is a group that is strengthened by “rainbow arcs” of distinctness rather than divided by fault lines of "separateness".

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