When I originally started working on this post I was squarely focused on the workplace and whether diversity and inclusion programs are focused on the right half of that pair of words. However, the recent events in the US with respect to the death of George Floyd have me thinking about the issue at a higher, societal level. I think I will go back and finish the original post as well but had to comment now in a different vein.
My argument with respect to corporate programs is that diversity of population, particularly senior leaders, is merely a measure of success. The process to be focused on is inclusion. Are we finding the systemic barriers to being inclusive such as personal network recruiting which generally finds “people like us”, actual names on resumés which give rise to unconscious bias, homogeneous interviewing teams which may have too narrow a perspective, etc.?
If we focus on diversity, then we are focused on our differences, and I think that is where this discussion gets real at a societal level. I think there is a natural tendency to notice differences in others: skin colour, bold fashion, body art, age, hair style, disabilities, body shape, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. I would go further and say it is also a tendency to assign labels to what we see. For example, a heavyset, long-haired, white male wearing biking leathers might cause one to assign a label of “gang member” or “dangerous”. My worry is that thinking about diversity actually causes us to evoke these labels and create distance between us.
Inclusion to me is the opposite. It is the act of embracing everyone as having intrinsic human value. It is the act of moving towards the other and embracing their unique identity as a gift to the rest of us. It is an act of love that says I see you and need you to have the opportunity to add your gifts to the world. It is a bridge that allows us to join together with each other, rather than possibly creating a psychological gap between us by naming one another as different.
I have a personal example to share that might highlight the difference in outcomes. Our local bottle depot recently opened again, and as expected with social distancing requirements. I was in a line to enter, parallel to a line to get a cart. I looked across to the other line to see a younger white male in threadbare clothes, unkempt hair and a bag of cans and applied a label of “homeless” to him. I immediately felt some judgments associated with that label. As I noticed this within myself, I felt a bit of shame associated with that so decided to move through that sensation and speak with him, hopefully inclusively. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Here we are again, doing this new weird thing of staying 2 metres apart!”
Him (smiling): “Yeah it is. Are you wishing I could come over there and give you a hug?”
Me (laughing): “I would love that!”
Both of us continued on, smiling and laughing. I also noticed that my outlook on life felt significantly lighter and brighter. I wonder if that would happen every time each of us noticed and moved past the labels we assign to others and just include that person as a part of our human experience.
So, let’s start measuring our inclusiveness by the degree of diversity in the people we engage with authentically and soulfully in any given day.
*** All the examples I used in this post are about white males. The point is that nobody is exempt from this process. But some labels and divides are deeper than others. I understand and embrace the peaceful protests of my black brothers and sisters that are happening across North America right now. We all need to listen openly to what is being said and asked. What one thing can you do right now to begin to heal this divide?