I was in a meeting recently where I heard ‘the thing about inclusion is it’s inefficient…’ Hard to know how to react to a statement that in some ways feels so wrong (is efficiency our ultimate goal?) and yet, in some ways, is probably right.
My wonderful business partner and fellow human change agent Sam delivered a workshop at Brighton’s fantastic Talent Fest last week. It was about inclusion and her argument was – in essence – that becoming more diverse is simply the beginning of the beginning, that the really hard work is inclusion. Why is this, why is it so hard to create inclusive organisations? We at the Human Change Agency think part of the answer might be revealed by asking the question ‘can you draw me an organisation?’ (which Sam did in the workshop). Go on, have a go…
Here are some of the pictures Sam got in response…
She didn’t get many of these…
Now, don’t worry, I’m not an organisation development expert who uniquely proclaims that you should push the ‘scribbly mess’ version of organisation theory (if there is one…), but what the pictures reveal is how much we think of the world of organisations in terms of thick, black lines. Right from the first stage in peopling an organisation, we’re in a process of exclusion – recruitment – whittling down of long lists and short lists, further shortening (and so excluding) until finally we select a candidate. And this is just the beginning of our thinking that is driven to exclusion – who’s in the team? who’s allowed to attend the meeting? who falls within the grade boundary or is entitled to join a management workshop? Our minds are – perhaps by necessity (to avoid the Scribbly MessTM organisation design) – orientated towards the locking out, the whittling, the preservation of order, through one primary means, exclusion.
So no wonder, then, that we find inclusion hard. Like being asked to write with a different hand or reverse the order of putting on your shoes, we’re asking our conscious, careful thinking to trump a well-established default. And that takes a lot of effort, a lot of hard work and tenacity, as it does to establish any habit.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are some suggestions to help reverse or challenge the default exclusionary mindset and to become a little more inclusive:
- Process is your friend: whether it’s the process for team meetings, managing the budget, or developing new product, take the current process and ask yourself ‘has this been designed for inclusion or exclusion?’ and ‘what would it take for this to become a more inclusive process?’ Perhaps make it the norm – a standing agenda item – to invite someone from outside the team to your monthly meeting, perhaps ask a peer to review and challenge your budget submission or invite customers or critical friends to a new product Board. The point isn’t to get this right and to solve immediately the inclusion problem; the point is to start building a different decision making muscle – one that asks not ‘who must be allowed in?’ but ‘who could we invite in?’
- Think in circles: (but not around in circles ;-)). Some rather sad research recently showed that British people are low on friends and, even more worryingly, other research has shown that people from some BAME backgrounds are more vulnerable to loneliness. This doesn’t bode brilliantly for inclusion but it does pose a clear and direct challenge; if we were all to widen our circles at work by one or two people a month, the impact could be huge. So why not reach out to those you don’t chat to often, seek their views, ask them who else you should be getting to know. See your professional life as an ever expanding and excitingly diverse circle. Regardless of your seniority, it will pay-back in fun, insight, challenge and networks. And there’s no better way to be the change you want to see. And finally,
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Seeing Boris Johnson sweat in interviews after emerging from his invisible man phase has reminded me of just how uncomfortable we are with those we know less well, trust less to have our back or who we don’t understand. (It’s also reminded me of how utterly depressed I am by the idea of Boris Johnson as prime minister, but that’s another story). This lack of comfort can make us retreat to our own, where we can speak in shorthand, feel comfortable and loved. But it’s outside our comfort zone that we learn. If you’re entirely comfortable at work then you’re probably missing a lot – the opportunity to develop, grow and change. So embrace the discomfort, lean in to it and see it for what it is – your brain firing and your contribution – to a better organisation and a better society – growing.
This – inclusion – matters because it matters – for rights, justice and equality. But it also matters because our ways of working are changing fast – we’re working in co-opetition as well as competition – with giggers as well as staff – with partners as well as our core organisation. All of which necessitate thinking of fuzzy, dotted lines, not thick black ones; spirals (Scribbly MessTM) as well as straight lines; the complex not the binary; and, inclusion not exclusion.
Good luck being human and changing, we’d love to hear your story!
Laura, Human Change Agent