I came out of a conversation recently with a well-meaning, committed and decent bloke who earnestly told me the organisation was doing much better at cultivating inclusion – after all, the numbers were much better.
After my exchange I met a new recruit in the corridor – a senior executive woman who told me she had never been anywhere like it! She was recruited into an organisation where people don’t bother to introduce themselves, don’t enquire after each other, don’t know or appear to care about the personal circumstances of their colleagues. She told me that her transition into the organisation had been very challenging, the most difficult in her career.
And here was evidence of the job at hand: Most organisations talk about results, data, quantifiable and tangible progress based on numbers of people within ‘minority’ groups (oh, and women). But inclusion is not about numbers.
We either feel included, or we don’t. We either intentionally include or we unintentionally exclude.
And to include we must see beyond what we’ve been trained to pay attention to. We must notice the invisible but real, the intangible but important.
Numbers and data are important but they are not sufficient because while we may be improving our numbers, we may not be leveraging our talent.
It’s not enough for people to be promoted if they do not feel safe and confident to speak up and contribute.
It’s not enough for us to invite people to the meeting if we are not really listening to or understanding what they say.
It’s not sufficient to recruit people from different backgrounds if we fail to cultivate an environment where they feel valued.
Those who have never been excluded, marginalised or lacking opportunity (mostly, white heterosexual blokes) have the most difficult time understanding that for those who have, it is hard to really feel valued or have a sense of belonging and connection.
They are less likely to recognise or see the people who have been left behind, or denied opportunities because those who have been dismissed or excluded are less likely and willing to speak up and contribute. They’ve given up on being listened to or included – so don’t. Their silence is misinterpreted as having nothing to contribute.
Additionally, we are primed to exclude. We are primed to relate to people ‘like us’ with greater empathy, favour and privilege than people who are not like us. Which means there are more people ‘like us’ in senior positions – women and men who have been recognised, rewarded and provided opportunities because they conform to how we do things around here. Who consciously or otherwise know what is required to get ahead, who recognise that speaking up and being seen is more important than being good at your job. Who take it for granted that others know this is what is required to be valued, recognised and given opportunities.
Inclusion is about people’s lived experience. It’s about being seen as an individual, not a category. It’s about being valued and recognised for who you are, not what you do or how you identify.
It’s about an intentional act of affirmation, encouragement, validation, valuing and ‘seeing’ an individual for who they are.
It’s about being Aware of our own filters, projections and habits of mind that limit who and what we see and experience and ameliorating the impact of those biases.
It’s about thinking Holistically and looking for more;
It’s about being Open and non judgmental and noticing when our mind closes, dismisses, criticises and shuts down difference: people, experiences, perspectives;
It requires Listening generously and asking what do they see that I don’t see?
It’s about MINDfulness and attention.
It’s about being. Not doing. And that’s hard.