There is risk involved when using the phrase ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ (DEI) too often, as we can lose sight of its relevance and importance — almost as if being desensitized. With so many people and organizations rushing to implement DEI, it should be approached with an emphasis on ensuring ‘inclusivity.” What is inclusivity, and what does it look like when it is not present within an organization? How can we ensure that it is always present and that we are keeping it in the foreground of the day-to-day?
A Work Experience
You’re in a new role at a new organization. Some of your new colleagues greet you and introduce themselves and invite you to coffee to get to know you. You are excited about the possibility of working in an organization where the people acknowledge you, are friendly toward you, and see you as value added to the team and organization. On the other hand, you become very aware that there are several of your colleagues who stand at a distance watching you, almost as if they are waiting for you to make a mistake. They never engage with you and it makes you feel uneasy in their presence. So, you reach out to them to introduce yourself and invite them to coffee so that you can get to know them. They either don’t respond or decline the offer to have coffee. You say to yourself, “maybe they are shy or busy” and you ignore the behavior. One day, you and your colleagues begin entering the meeting room to attend a team meeting. You sit down at the table and begin having a conversation with a colleague, however, one of your colleagues who does not acknowledge you sits down next to the person with whom you are speaking and begins to converse with them, leaving you out of the conversation. You try your best to follow and be part of the discussion, however, they don’t acknowledge you, or respond to your inquiry or comments about the subject matter, and now the person that you were speaking to doesn’t notice that you have been excluded from the conversation. Is it your imagination? Are you making too much out of it?
Fast forward six months, you’re in a meeting with the same individuals and the same consistent behavior continues. You make a concerted effort to ignore the behavior and try to engage them even though they still won’t acknowledge you exist. You then make the effort again to reach out to find out if there is a problem that you are not aware of, and they either won’t respond or they say everything is ok, but the behavior continues. What do you do? You are very uncomfortable and are often excluded from meetings about the work for which you are accountable and it’s affecting your performance. You find yourself going to others to get information that those colleagues should be able to share with you, however, they won’t. You speak to your boss about it, but they say, “maybe you’re making too much of it.” To save face, you don’t say anything else because you are afraid of being labeled as a “troublemaker.” You start to doubt yourself and your ability. You are often told when inquiring about meetings that you were left out of that, “it was an oversight.” Fast forward another six months– you’ve found another job and given your resignation.
Can you relate to this story? Were you the person to who this happened? Maybe you observed it at a distance and didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately, there are many stories like this that occur for BIPOCs. More often than not, there are stories of exclusion rather an inclusion. Stories of humiliation, frustration, and angst that lead to the failure of BIPOCs to be their best at work. What some organizations fail to understand is that when the conditions at work are not set up for everyone to be seen, acknowledged, valued, or appreciated, they go elsewhere. So, no matter how you relate, we all play a role in creating an inclusive environment for all and organizations are not exempt from this call to action.
Setting the Conditions for Inclusivity
Merriam Webster defines inclusion as: “the act of including, state of including or of being included within a group or structure.”
Inclusivity in practice gives way to providing equal access to information, and opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. It opens pathways to creating a culture that sees, values, and appreciates diversity. It sets an expectation that the values of the organization be lived and show up in daily interactions. Making an impact in this area can only increase innovation, productivity and build brand reputation for organizations. It starts with the values of the organization, is evident in culture and the drivers for success, the behaviors of all employees, and it’s evident in leadership!
Where to look
Review the policies and practices for your organization and ask:
- Where have we defined the expectation for inclusivity?
- Where do our values show up in the day to day and how are they demonstrated?
- What do we do when issues arise? How are we handling them?
- Are we just going by the bare minimum standards of what the law says or are we going above and beyond to create the conditions for inclusivity?
Another place to look is at the culture and drivers for success. Revisiting them can help an organization to refine the behaviors and set the standard for culture in practice. Next, how does leadership show up? If a BIPOC employee raised a concern, as a leader, would you meet that concern with a surface-level response or would you truly listen with an empathetic ear and lean into the call for being an ally?
Whatever an organization chooses to do to create an inclusive environment where all employees are seen, valued, and appreciated, it must be done!