Inclusion, and its twin, diversity, are a hotbed of opinions, politics, talking at each other, and talking over one another. That makes it easy to want to shut it out. But we can remove some of the emotion and talk rationally about inclusion.
First, let’s suss out inclusion from ‘diversity and inclusion’. The terms are so routinely paired that it can be difficult to remember that they are different. They may be twins, but they're fraternal twins, with marked differences and elements all their own.
We’ll come back to diversity in later blog posts, but for now, a few key things;
- Diversity is about both personal attributes (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation) and functional attributes (e.g. experience, perspective, education, world view). Both are pivotal to a legitimate commitment to diversity.
- Diversity alone doesn’t ensure better decision-making or remove group biases; it has to be paired with inclusion, conflict, trust, and a host of other intentional behaviors for the benefits to materialize.
- Not everyone has a direct impact on diversity at work. You may not be responsible for recruiting, hiring, terminating, promoting, or any of a number of other critical decisions. In many workplaces those decisions are reserved for managers and/or human resources.
- ... But you can’t abdicate your responsibility if you see something, or a trend of somethings, that lead you to believe that implicit or explicit bias is negatively affecting diversity in your workplace.
So, what about inclusion?
You control how you include others.
We have an evolutionary drive to form groups. Over tens of thousands of years, nature and nurture rewarded the ancestors who were productive members of groups.
They were better equipped to share in feasts, weather famine, benefit from protection, take care of each other in times of sickness or injury, and pass genes through reproduction. Someone who went out on their own had none of these protections, and was more susceptible to injury, starvation, and death.
What that means is that we’re bred and conditioned to value groups. That blend of nature and nurture is still in effect today.
The downside to that evolutionary mandate is that we trust people we believe to be our ‘ingroup’, and are suspicious of those we mentally put in our ‘outgroups’. Ingroups are those with whom we closely identify; groups to which we belong.
We’re experts at sorting our world, which in absolute terms isn’t a bad thing. It becomes a negative because we look more favorably on our ingroup, and less favorably on outgroups (those we consider to be dissimilar to us).
Our associations with those ingroups are fluid. Depending on the situation, we align ourselves according to employers, sports teams, colleges, race, gender, professional affiliations, etc.
When we bring that bias into the workplace, we find compounding dynamics at play. Influence, power, protection, rewards, and a host of other desirable benefits are many times tied to acceptance into certain groups. Likewise, most knowledge jobs are highly dependent on others, and being left out of social settings and communication loops is tantamount to being ostracized.
For those of us who also care about the business or financial impact of inclusion, research shows that people who are excluded from groups can lash out, especially when they don’t know why they’ve been excluded (randomly versus intentionally).
This blindsiding can lead to feelings of inadequacy, frustration, fear, concern, and anger.
If the exclusion is intentional, people report feeling less smart, able, useful, or valuable. That presents another set of challenges related to something called the Golem effect; a psychological effect where the lower expectations of a supervisor or peer contribute to actual lower performance.
This plays out something like; ‘Because you’ve left me out, I believe I’m a poor performer, so I act like a poor performer, so you think I’m a poor performer, so I act even more like a poor performer’, and it's a self-reinforcing downward spiral.
Those feelings are like a disease in your group, and they sap productivity and results, and increase turnover and litigation.
A 2015 U.S survey from Gallup found that at work 50.8% of employees were “not engaged”, with another 17.2% “actively disengaged”.
So why would we continue behaviors that are divisive and unproductive when we're already dealing with 2/3 of a workforce who are unhappy at work?
As always, the question is what can we do with this information? What actions can we take today that will help?
A few suggestions/checklist from people and groups that I’ve seen do this the best;
1. Redefine your ingroup.
If you’re struggling to accept a new person or to work cross-functionally, change your perspective. Find common ground that you can use to bring this person into your psychological ingroup. We’re wired to like people who we believe are like us, and when you dig deep enough, you’ll find something you can hold on to.
If you find yourself excluding someone because they’re ‘not like us’, think more deeply about the filter you’re using. Odds are you share something that you can use as the start of a relationship.
2. Don’t accept. Embrace.
Accepting someone into your group is passive. It’s ambivalent. It doesn’t feel great.
Embracing is active. It’s deliberate and intentional. It’s asking someone onto a project. It’s inviting them out to lunch with a couple other peers. It’s taking the time to get to know their history. It’s powerful.
3. Be the example.
You may feel like you don’t have the social capital to spend by reaching out to others, but the truth is that the more you drive yourself to include others, the more your network grows and the more influence you accrue.
Inclusion is a force multiplier that benefits everyone.
4. Get uncomfortable.
One of the best ways to remember what it’s like to be an outsider, is to be an outsider. Join a new club. Reach out to a new person. Either you’ll be embraced, or you won’t be, but either way you’re bound to remember how it feels.
You’ve likely been part of your current groups for long enough that you’ve forgotten how hard it is to be an outsider. This called the curse of knowledge. One way around it is to adopt a beginner’s mindset.
If you leave yourself open to it, you’ll learn something about yourself, and about how you want to make people feel.
Just remember that how you engage with a group won’t be how everyone does. You may have a preference for extroversion or introversion that influences your approach. The goal is to stay a lifelong learner, not to get everyone to assimilate the same way you do.
Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. It’s one of our most basic of human needs; to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves. And like it or not, most of us spend more time at work than we do with friends or family.
When we’re not included, we can’t build trust. When we can’t build trust, we can’t perform at our best. When we’re not at our best, both the individual and the organization suffer. Inclusion is a human imperative, and a business necessity.
So how are you doing?
Share this with someone who has made you feel welcome.