How to Fully Value Diversity & Inclusion

My friend has been trying hard to fit in at his company.

Like all of us, he carries insecurity and tries hard to say and do the right things. So he was excited to join the recent team diversity and inclusion training day. Here’s a chance to connect authentically with other team members, he thought.

But it didn’t work out that way.

During the session, the facilitator prompted the team to openly voice their stereotypes, which my friend did. After the training, however, several team members said they found the stereotyping discussion offensive. The result was that my friend now felt judged by the others for his perspectives. So he became silent and felt disconnected.

Apples and an orange

Have you ever met someone who’s an open book—completely candid, comfortable with being vulnerable and willing to expose all of their foibles and quirks? That’s my friend. Being honest about himself is how he connects with people.

So he didn’t think anything of it when he admitted to his boss something about his past. But the boss just laughed uncomfortably and stared at him.

He doesn’t talk much about himself to her any more.

My friend inspires me because honesty and authenticity is how I connect with people too. It seems sometimes, though, that the push toward political correctness can push us all toward sounding the same, or not saying anything at all.

Most people want to embrace pluralism, the differences in others. Unfortunately, embracing differences often means remaining safely quiet for fear of offending or being offended. Diversity is everywhere you look; we’re all different, unique human beings. But if we really want inclusion, we have to start encouraging honesty rather than comfort.

Here are three ways:

  1. Listen with open hands. Usually we listen with close fists—clenching our rightness, protecting and controlling. Listening with open hands means hearing and accepting anything that comes, regardless of how uncomfortable, hard or oppositional the perspective. This might be, when relevant, a willingness to talk about traditionally taboo subjects that are central to what each of us values.
  2. Practice all-inclusive tolerance. In a pluralistic society, many people believe that tolerance will prevent unnecessary argument, conflict and offense. Ironically though,  this virtue of open-mindedness can be over-applied, judging others who don’t conform to the group-think of the trending majority.
  3. Identify intrinsically. When we get our identity from being connected to a group—a political view, a religion, a race, a sexual preference, a gender or any other dividing boundary—we have to validate our group to maintain our identity. Your group connection is important but it’s not fundamentally who you are. Appreciate your unique and intrinsic value, and you’ll be free to affirm the controversial and uncomfortable differences in others.

Diversity and inclusion efforts are important to ensure everyone is safe and respected in an organization. Make everyone feel included, not just the ones who conform to your view.

How will you practice diversity and inclusion so that everyone feels safe to be who they are?



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