Why inclusion requires a leap of imagination
Updated: Mar 30
The business case is clear: Diverse organisations are more likely to be profitable and productive (as cited by McKinsey in their report “Why Diversity Matters”). Deloitte noted in their report “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup?” that employees who feel included at work are significantly more likely to be high achievers, and to feel good about the organisations they work for. So follow this thought process through, and it’s obvious that as employers, all we need to do is to make sure all our employees feel included. Simple. Right? Or not.
It can be hard for people to truly understand inclusion, and the changes they need to make to ensure that others feel included. From an organisational perspective, data is key - it's vital to understand the perspectives, not just from the population"at large", but from those who may not feel included as individuals. This type of insight provides the opportunity to make a genuine impact to organisational inclusion policy.
My personal view is that even with great data, truly understanding inclusion requires a leap of imagination. First things first – inclusion is so much more than just an absence of exclusion. A lack of exclusion is a zero. It takes us back to nothing. It is not what makes people feel included. Inclusion has to be proactive and positive. Because for the majority of those who feel in some way excluded, that is the change it will take to move beyond the zero.
So why does this require a leap of imagination? It all comes down to “in groups” and “outsiders”. I thought that as a woman who has worked in male-dominated environments my whole career, and who, in my very early career, experienced sexual harassment at work, I really understood the topics of inclusion and exclusion, and what it felt like to be “outside”. In fact, as a straight, cisgender woman, my experience of “outside” is in a completely different league to, for example, my former colleague Eloise, who in December 2016 came out as transgender at work, and started working as a woman in January 2017.
Hearing Eloise’s story knocked me for six. For many reasons, but one in particular – she thought that if she came out at work, she would lose her job (she obviously didn’t). Even with her rights protected under the law, Eloise thought she would lose her job if she came out at work. And she’s not alone. Only 36% of trans respondents in Stonewall’s recent survey felt comfortable being out to all their colleagues at work. Only 31% of LGB people questioned felt comfortable being out at work (as a side note, Stonewall measure the experiences of trans respondents separately to LGB respondents in their surveys). And it applies to other protected characteristics too. According to recent research conducted by the NHS 48% of people with a mental illness don’t feel comfortable talking about it at work. And a report by the Everyday Sexism Project and the TUC found that more than half of women recently surveyed have experienced sexual harassment at work, but only 27% of those felt they could report their experience.
So if we think about the “in group” in a working environment, those who don’t fear to be their real selves at work, it is going to take a leap of imagination for them to understand how it feels to be on the outside. That’s one of the reasons that starting a conversation in our organisations is so important. Having a safe environment with a great group of people allows a conversation to begin through sharing stories and experiences. This is the most important contribution that can be made by those of us who have been “outsiders” – to follow the lead of those like Eloise, and share our experiences, to help make that leap to understanding exclusion a bit less scary, and to show what proactive inclusion looks like.
And as for those on the “inside”? The most important contributions they can make are taking the time to listen, and really, truly hearing and trying to understand, then taking proactive steps towards inclusion. After all – what’s the power of imagination without the motivation to do something great with it?
At A New Normal we know that sometimes the conversation needs a little help to get started, which is why we run collaborative workshops for our clients to start the discussion. So if you want to start the conversation in your organisation, why not get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we'd love to hear from you!