• Mabel Osejindu

Inclusion Must Be Intentional!

Inclusion. It's the hallmark of what underpins the DiveIn Network and what all organisations and businesses under the sun are supposedly meant to compel to. After all, the Equality Act of 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of any of these characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion/belief, sex (gender) and sexual orientation. But inclusion is much more than the “primary dimensions” but ought to include personality type, recreation habits, appearance, parental marital status, geographical location, job function and union affiliations. Yes, Inclusion is about practices or policies of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups. But following this one-sided dimension of inclusion would be ill-fated. Inclusion, as I’ve come to learn, is much about valuing and upholding the intellectual contributions and opinions and views of people of colour in a work environment as the former definition.

According to Diversity Forward founder, Tonie Guajardo, “A diverse workforce doesn’t equate to an inclusive workplace that fosters belonging”. We may welcome something into a fold but if we don't value their full existence, is it inclusive acceptance? As a teacher, I may seek to include all children in my class regardless of academic ability including children with special needs and additional learning needs but if I don't see their views, thoughts or ideas as valid, I simply overskirt the very embrace I boast to provide? If a child is neuro-diverse or has an opinion that is far from the status quo, does that mean that their view cannot be acknowledged and discussed? And it's a similar notion with adult employees of a minority ethnic community.

I entered the employee section of society 10 years ago and never was I taught the importance of having a voice in the workplace. It has been part of the national discussion about the need to recruit diverse teachers but do these schools and teaching colleges involve teachers from a minority ethnic background into the platform to speak their mind and contribute to significant changes or feedback on current systems? I speak for many employed citizens of a minority ethnic background in saying that during staff meetings, focus groups etc, we find it hard to break down the barrier of judgement to voice our views on a range of organisation matters. I have experienced countless situations where I have not been asked for my opinion in discussions involving critical matters or made to feel invisible. And those times when I did share my views, it was just simply ignored and not acknowledged as I know my fellow white colleagues’ opinions are.

Inclusion is intentional and so it is about identifying and removing barriers so that everyone can participate to the best of their ability. If someone on a work team is known to not contribute in staff meetings, leaders and bosses should investigate why that individual does not contribute and how they can both motivate that person to engage and also help them to feel more included on the staff team to feel comfortable in doing so. It should be monitored; an individual may be encouraged to only speak when felt the need to, but their opinion is not sought for and enquired about. There’s a difference! A floor to speak cannot just be perceived to be ‘open’, I believe it should be audibly confirmed and reasserted to be ‘open’. If an individual feels the floor is not open to freely speak and discuss, they may hold back, thinking that their voice is only encouraged to be heard when called upon. By failing to do so, organisations are suffering from encountering a wide range of views or opinions which could take them to the next level of progress or success, rather than restraining themselves with the contributions of a select view of extroverted, outspoken, monoethnic male individuals. In McKinsey and Company’s latest report entitled “Diversity Matters”, companies with gender and racially diverse boards and teams perform significantly better by 35% above their respective national industry medians and 43%, notice higher profits by examining proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States including financial results and the composition of top management and boards.

Research by Hudson and Consulting Co state that diversity and inclusion can follow a virtuous cycle where investment in diversity and inclusion recruitment helps source the best talent which produces more engaged employees who then, in turn, promote more innovative ideas, reflect in the diversity of customers and meet unmet customer needs, leading to a market advantage workplace. Diversity Forward, an admirable organisation seeking change, suggests pillars of inclusion that ensures inclusion is based on community, connection, contribution, contemplation and comprehensive foundations. Diversity Forward is a team of subject matter experts with over 60 years of combined expertise in tailoring and delivering solutions to help organizations meet their commitments to creating equitable and inclusive workplaces by providing detailed workshops on Talent Strategy and Recruitment, Mitigating Bias, Intersectionality, Levels of Privilege, Partnerships and Event Management.

Inclusion can be strategic and not in the sense that individuals of minority ethnic background are recruited just to “make up the numbers”, but so that inclusion and its benefits to the workplace, and the community at large are fully tapped into. This helps to develop a culture of inclusion where it becomes the norm to have and experience a range of contributions, views and discussions as we all strive towards diversity and inclusion. A place where all layers of identity and difference are considered and supported and systemic processes for maintaining inclusion are fully woven into your organization. A culture where exclusionary or discriminatory incidents rarely happen is not often a culture that forms organically. I love this quote by Verna Myers where she utilizes the analogy of an ‘occasion’ to the matter of inclusion saying “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”.

May we ask ourselves when we consider how inclusion is implemented in our communities and workplaces by posing this; am I allowing citizens of all colours and creeds to dance at this party or just stand and observe the fun? This only comes once we all begin to wilfully break down the conscious or unconscious biases, we may have of each other towards reaching an optimum state of intentional inclusion. As a society or work team, we can create ample opportunities for members to forge personal connections and foster trust and respect authentically. Inclusion can be moved past being an abstract concept that is just the insertion of an individual of a different background into a given place but an ever ebbing and flowing unfeigned practice.