Scenario. She stands alone on playground in kindergarten. In isolation from groups of other kids.
She invites herself—no luck to fit in. In her mind she thinks she might be invisible. She tries to understand. As a matter of fact, she thinks that when she grows up, what she really wants to do is to understand. To have all the answers—because grown ups seem to know everything. In that way she may never have to feel this way again.
She starts elementary school next summer. She is excited. Excited to meet others and bond and learn and play together. Suddenly she has similar experiences as ones in kindergarten. She is disappointed. She hops from this grade to the next and the next, still having similar experiences. She stops and looks around and realises this does not only happen to her. She concludes that maybe this is how life is. Because no one seems to notice. Little does she know that all are bothered within.
That was about twenty five years ago. Today she works in tech. She hears and comes across the word diversity about fifty seven times per day. How does she get to this precise number? Not really. I just made it up to get more of your attention without screaming. Let’s just say she thinks the word diversity might be the new hot pants in today’s vocabulary alongside machine learning, agile, and design systems.
She still experiences what she experienced since childhood. Sometimes she might often ask herself: am I a diversity hire? Did I get here to complete the numbers? The only difference is that today she learns and shares and tries her best to include others. She thinks that we exclude others unconsciously even when we don’t mean to. Because we did when we were young and might not have been aware.
There are many real scenarios like the one above that happen to real people. As one may ask: how can organisations foster inclusion? I’d like to paraphrase: how can individuals kindle inclusion from within?
All of us have different experiences. I’m writing about mine from my own perspective. I cannot embroider a set of principles and neither can I loose you in the woods by saying I know it when I see it. Somehow I tend to believe that inclusion comes from within. It’s not about diversity. The world has always been diverse, in one way or another. So in no respective order, here we go.
Discovering and practicing the art of breathing first come to mind. A key to being present. And before you come to your own conclusions: it’s not about being a Zen master. The more present you are the more aware you become of arising situations. This may also open an opportunity to be mindful of your unconscious bias and take responsibilities when that happens. So breathe. You are alive. Make life changing decisions.
Two. Creating a safe environment that enables others to share and express themselves better. In as much as learning about yourself is concerned, inclusion is also about learning about others: where they come from; how they feel; how they work and play and cope under certain environments. Humans are complex.
Being open to different ideas that come from anyone within your team or organisation or group regardless of their role, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. This not only applies to teams within organisations. It could be families, friends, couples, communities, all the way to societies and states and countries.
And above all, developing listening skills. Nothing helps when someone is in queue for their turn to speak.
Somehow I tend to believe that inclusion comes from within. It’s not about diversity. The world has always been diverse, in one way or another. Diversity needs inclusion.