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. So she tries to understand and explore this phenomenon. As a matter of fact, she decides 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 it all. In that way she may never have to feel this way again. To feel alone in the world of people.
She starts elementary school next summer. She is excited. Excited to meet other kids and bond and learn and play together. Suddenly she has similar experiences as ones in kindergarten. She is disappointed. She moves on from this grade to the next but nothing changes. She stops and looks around and realises that this does not only happen to her. She concludes that maybe this is how the world is. This is how life is. Because no one seems to notice at all. Little does she know that all are bottled up and bothered within.
That was about twenty five years ago. Today she works in tech, capable and even much so than her male counterparts. But how often does she have to keep asking herself if she is hired just to balance the sheets? She hears and comes across the word diversity about fifty seven times per day. How does she get to this precise number? Not really. It is made up to get your attention without having to scream. Let’s just say she thinks the word diversity might be the new hot pants in today’s vocabulary alongside machine learning, agile software development, and design systems.
There are many real scenarios like the one above that happen to real people like you and me and your neighbour or your best friend. All real scenarios are different in many ways and yet quite similar. Some scenarios are rather much painful than others whilst some are not quite so. Some are full of surprises and excitement. And still, as humanity moving forward, I believe the outcome is that we get to learn from all of them and evolve for the better.
I have been wondering for a good long while why sometimes people tend to suffer in the name of diversity. I have been there and quiet frankly, I’m certain it’s not only me. Does diversity suffer from lack of inclusion? And while we are at it, why do we tend to exclude others? Do we do it because we did when we were young? Because our parents might have told us to not talk to strangers? Do we exclude others because we feel threatened? Because we don’t want to get hurt and contrariwise? Do we exclude others because our attention is fully occupied by other things? Because we love to be the centre of the universe and prove ourselves? I believe we exclude others even when we don’t mean to. And we can do something about it.
All of us have different experiences. I share mine from my own perspective and try my best to continue to learn and unlearn and improve everyday. Somehow I tend to believe that inclusion comes from within. It’s not about diversity. The world has always been diverse. Instead of asking: how can organisations foster inclusion? I’d like to paraphrase: how can individuals kindle inclusion from within? This is what I’ve learned. It is basic and I think yet powerful. It is not a constraint. Take and add what you wish and leave what you may:
Discover and practice the art of breathing. And before you come to conclusions: it’s not about being a Zen master. The moment I started being aware of my breath I realised that I’m more alive than the idea of being alive. I realised that we are alive! I figured that every opportunity I have in front of another human being might as well be a blessing. Breathing also brings presence and calmness under stressful situations. I find that the more present I am the more aware I become of arising situations. So breathe! You are alive. Make life changing decisions.
Be open to learn, share, understand, and respect cultural differences of anyone you interact with. I often catch myself puzzled, wondering why people behave the way they do. Then I realise it does not make me any better or worse than them. They mean well. We mean well. To understand that culture is complex; to embrace sharing and avoid forcing my culture on others gives us both an opportunity to be open; to be interested; to be engaged. And that contributes to a healthier atmosphere and therefore fertile collaboration.
Create a safe environment that enables others to share and express themselves better. One that is accessible. We are very different. We do things differently. We have our own needs. We are introverts and extroverts and somewhere in between. We don’t cope well and we thrive under certain environments.
Be open to different ideas, thoughts, opinions, questions, etc, that come from anyone within your team or organisation or group, regardless of their role, gender, race, age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, abilities, disabilities, etc. This may not only apply to teams within organisations or at work places. It could be from friends and couples and families, all the way to communities and societies.
And above all, instead of telling much, learn to listen and ask questions. I’m convinced that listening is an art which requires discipline and presence. And when done well it forms a more natural flow of a conversation. Nothing helps when someone is in queue on their toes for their turn to speak without really listening to what another is saying. It often comes across as a sign of one pushing their own agenda. Sort of a one way conversation. You will have your turn. It will come as natural or unforced.