There seems to be this idea that diversity is the answer to all the problems of our society. What I won’t argue in this post is that diversity is bad. In fact, I think that diversity is amazing and it’s extremely necessary. But, more than diversity we need inclusion. This is a soap box that I’ve been standing on for a long time now. The thing is, many people seem to think that by talking about inclusion, we’re negating the importance of diversity, and that’s not true. To me, diversity means that boxes are being checked in terms of the representation around the table. Inclusion, however, suggests that everyone is part of that conversation and is connected to the community.
Why I love inclusion is because it encourages people to bring their “whole selves” to that table. But again, that table needs to be diverse. I think this is where it gets a little confusing. It’s not enough to have everyone at the table with a different background, those people also need to feel a sense of connection to the other people at the table. But how can we bridge this gap? How can we foster cooperative, collaborative, fair, curious and accountable spaces? More specifically, let’s talk about this in terms of the workplace.
Having a Voice
Employees need to feel like they have a say in the decisions that impact their work. It’s crucial for management to proactively find ways to give employees a voice. How can they do this? They could talk to their employees in an informal way. Maybe this is through focus group meetings, or with surveys that address inclusion. Employees also need to know that it’s ok to ask questions that they may feel embarrassed to ask. If someone doesn’t know a lot about a particular race, or culture, the venue should allow for those opportunities. Otherwise, no one will ever learn.
Regardless of your race, your religion or your background, everyone wants to feel accepted. We all want to feel like we are part of something bigger. Which is why it’s crucial for employees to feel that their organization values their unique perspectives and skills. I recently moved to a new team, and while I typically don’t have a hard time fitting in, I definitely cherish the fact that my Manager outlines the value of the work that I’m doing, and highlights my achievements, even when they are small. She sends out emails very regularly to everyone on our team, outlining everything great that each one of us did that week. No matter how big or how small. And that makes a big difference.
When people on the team feel that they are being heard, because team members are reaching out to them, there will be a stronger sense of connection. And this is key for the success of your team or organization – especially from an inclusion perspective.
But how does this foster an inclusive environment? By definition, inclusion means “to include”. If you always feel like you are on the outside looking in, you aren’t going to feel like you’re part of the team. You’re not going to feel welcome. Now, let’s add an element of race, culture or background to that. As I’ve said many times in the past, I don’t think the focus should be on hiring people of different backgrounds, because it just ends up being a quota system. Hire the candidate that is the best person for the job, and you’ll automatically begin to see how diverse your team can be.
The inclusion piece is what is going to make or break an organization. You can have the most diverse team in the world, but if they all feel like they’re working in silos, or that their voice isn’t being heard, your team isn’t going to be successful. Inclusion is the answer.