Inclusion is a two-way street

"If we don't walk in the shoes of others, nothing gets done."

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I recently delivered a talk to a group of public sector HR leaders. They had recently launched several new inclusion initiatives, and I was a key participant, tasked with creating enthusiasm and buy-in for these initiatives.


Speaking to the organisers and audience members, I realised that there was significant resistance and cynicism coming from their colleagues from under-represented backgrounds.


They were hesitant to embrace the new proposals and seemed to doubt the plans’ integrity.The organisers needed me to open up the dialogue to understand why they were getting this pushback. In truth, this was something they should have considered and perhaps expected from the outset.

If you want to help someone who feels overlooked, you offer them a ladder, not simply words.

This is a trend we are increasingly seeing across the work we do.

Far too many well-intentioned organisations, after the euphoria of seeing their early diversity initiatives spark improvements in numbers and data, jump into inclusion too eagerly without fully understanding their responsibility for the environment.

Usually, they are not prepared to face resistance from underrepresented or marginalised groups who may not appreciate the initiatives straight away.

All too often this makes people feel like there is an issue with the initiatives, or they have their inclusion approach all wrong.


In our experience this isn’t the cause.


To understand it, you have to put yourself in the shoes of those who have spent the majority of their career isolated and excluded. Exclusion really is harmful. It can cause real trauma and some painful memories. In the most extreme cases, it can impact our health.

If you had spent your career in such an environment, wouldn’t you be cynical when, after years of inactivity, people suddenly push a new inclusion initiative designed to address everything?

We have witnessed several companies come close to abandoning inclusion altogether because the individuals they aim to support question their motives.

Sometimes people lose sight of the fact that inclusion is a two-way street.


In the audience at the recent talk, I saw the cynics afraid to open up around inclusion, scared that in exposing themselves they might invite further damage.


I saw many who wanted to challenge the resistors but were also afraid, worried that they might cause offense. And, in the end, nothing changes.

To create real change, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

For inclusion initiatives to succeed, both sides must come together to reach the goal. There needs to be just as much focus on coaching those have been excluded as there is on those who are trying to introduce a new inclusive culture.

We need to be prepared for the resistance and the challenge and prepared to take the knocks. Maybe we did get it a bit wrong, maybe we didn’t listen when we should have. But if we abandon the important work when the going gets tough, we will never reach our goal.

It’s no good trying to do inclusion by theory. You have to be prepared to go and walk in the shoes of others. And for those who feel the reluctance, you have to be open to showing them what it feels like and acknowledge their hurt.


Thought for the week:

Sharing when you are afraid is the biggest show of strength.


Tips for being an A player

  • Speak to and listen to those less fortunate than yourself – this is true leadership.
  • Our proudest moments come from helping others.
  • Become part of the change, or be left behind.
  • Never stop trying and believing.
  • Don’t fear the future.

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