Inclusion & Diversity – a lens to see the person before the problem
You won’t gain the same insights or share the same experience as others reading this article. You will have a unique way of digesting the thoughts presented to you. You come to this article with a reaction when you hear the word inclusion, or diversity. This means I can’t really know my “audience”. That’s okay, that’s completely normal and I’d go so far as to say that’s the whole point.
You may have had a great experience of a successful inclusion and diversity programme and that comes to mind. Maybe key groups that typically get talked about when we discuss inclusion and diversity jump into your mind based on your familiarity. You might feel exhausted because you’ve seen so many efforts which haven’t been effective in a programme even though the idea is one that you believe in.
You could be interested because you care passionately about this topic. Perhaps you feel frustrated, because efforts at diversity have left you feeling excluded, misunderstood or even discriminated against. Maybe words like “legal” and “compliance” come into your mind because inclusion and diversity mean being told to do certain things in your experience. It’s possible you are on the fence and go along as the good “corporate citizen” because your organisation values this. Alternatively, perhaps your organisation espouses to care even though there are no ramifications if you don’t live it, so you don’t think of it much. You might have a reaction and think of terms like “political correctness”, “woke”, the “liberal elite” and be fed up with being talked at. Many of you have been simply living the embodiment of openness and do all you can to keep yourself surrounded by people who are different to you.
If we already have such variance in starting points, how can we possibly tackle a complex issue such as this? Isn’t this futile? I have acknowledged you’re going to come to this from a completely different perspective and that’s part of the complexity and beauty of diversity. I’m not going to shy away from it, I’m going to call it out.
I don’t want to live in that kind of world. I am not going to exclude you by telling you your thinking is wrong and I’m right – I hope you’ll never hear this from me. I do, however, want to live in a world and work with organisations where, instead of anchoring into a space of being absolute and closed to alternatives, we can all show a bit more humility. Where we recognise that our views, judgements, reactions, opinions, thoughts and feelings as individuals are a culmination of a series of influences from what we were born with, dealt or given and what we seek.
I am offering a lens to consider how actively we seek opportunities which expose us to difference and how closely we get to directly experience that difference. This isn’t about right or wrong but considering without judgement across spectrums of difference that these influences have a huge impact on our Exposure, Education and our Experience (the 3 E’s). The 3 E’s get us closer to a wider lens of being open, without which is it hard to empathise emotionally or cognitively with differences we don’t understand. This feeds into having a productive discussion about why inclusion and diversity matters, why it is so uncomfortable and how we can consider a more compassionate way of influencing change. For those of us who want things to be different, we must understand what we intend to change and that starts with us.
For a moment, let’s drop the urge to simplify the topic and break down all those boxes, types and groups that you have in your mind about inclusion and diversity. They each have their own connotations for you, and the title and terms aren’t helpful in being truly open. This isn’t to say certain groups who have received the most discrimination or greatest misrepresentation shouldn’t be at the forefront of the discussion around efforts and issues. It is however to suggest that by putting groups of people impacted by discrimination into buckets of society and treating them as “one” fails to recognise the people within that group as individuals which needs to equally be top of mind.
What do key groups or major populations of focused inclusion and diversity efforts have in common? Predominantly, they are things people are born with or born into. They aren’t choices or opportunities, but they impact who we are and how we view this topic. Race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and religion. Areas that have the most focus are biological; born into or dealt. How does that land with you? For example, someone may be born with a disability, or dealt later in life. This is bound to have an impact on their experience of the world. When we consider religion, though people may move around and have different experiences which influence the way they view the world and their beliefs, primarily this is most likely to be based on where they grew up, what country and what family they were born in. No doubt these groups have some shared experiences, but we’re missing a huge part of the picture in recognising what we intend to change or influence as a society, when we’re talking about inclusion and diversity.
Consider the Openness Matrix which focuses on individual differences, taking a Person-Centred lens to understand diversity; your own and of others. How can we possibly “include” people, when we boil down who they are into such a small area of the matrix? Who we are as individuals, can’t be reduced to a shared and single common experience. Although well intended in attempting to highlight the needs of impacted groups, by the nature of the beast in defining groups we create stereotypes and set views? “Middle age white males”, how represented do you feel by that category? Equally, when we talk about gender diversity and we look at the needs of “women” as a population, how helpful is it to group the individual and varied experiences of half of the world’s population into a big bucket? When we talk about Black Lives Matter, what do we risk by reducing the discrimination and prejudice black people have experienced into our own version of their narrative and life? What influence does that have when we meet someone in how we regard them as an individual? What if instead, we see the person right in front of us at the centre and the myriad of all they are? What difference would this make to you if people didn’t assume who you are in broad brushstrokes and instead was open to how you might come to be who you are right now?
Each of us have travelled across or populated the Openness Matrix in a very different way. Think of it as a living grid mapping your life. It isn’t static. Openness breeds openness. Instead of a wedge dividing or polarising thinking, imagine a wedge that holds the door open to expand, test, build on or disrupt your view. This is where you grow rather than reaffirm your urge to stay in the room and guard the door. You generate new and expanding perceptions. You open a new possibility of “you” who evolves to a new view, if only we let go of the notion that exactly who we are now and what we believe is what we need to defend. What happens however when someone firmly has their door shut? Banging on it won’t help. Telling them to come out won’t work. Perhaps understanding why they hold that view, is the key to unlocking the door which might enable that person to open up enough to consider a different perspective.
Practical Reflection – Culture Use Case
Let’s consider the value of looking at culture from a view of the Openness Matrix. What culture were you born into? Were you raised in that culture by your biological parents? How much did you need to adhere to what’s considered normal in that culture? How deeply were the religious tenants built into the fabric of society? Do multiple faiths live in harmony side by side in the society? Does that culture encourage openness? How stable is the political landscape? Already, it is easy to see the significance of Exposure, Education and our Experience on how someone might view others or be viewed.
More broadly, or holistically, you’ve got the country of origin and dominant and minority races within the country. There’s also the culture of choice, where someone chooses to live. Let’s not forget the differences within countries within regions and towns. There are different countries that people may have lived in, travelled to or been exposed to and they carry elements of those cultures with them. The impact of technology and language plays a role. How they value extroversion or introversion impacts feeling accepted.
Then we open the notion of organisational culture. What country is the organisation that you’re working in based? What industry are you in and how does that influence your way of working and the experience of all things to do with openness? Who are the industry competitors? What is the offer? Is it a product or service? What is the culture of the department that you’re in? What technical part of your own wider industry expertise and communities do you relate to outside of your organisation? What do you read and from where?
What are the espoused values of your organisation? What are the assumptions within the culture that permeate everything which everyone knows and live by, both good and bad? What is the interplay between people and practice? Are you global in your role, have a country or local focus? Are you based in an office? What kind of people are you surrounded by day to day? Open plan, offices or agile? City based, outskirts, rural or home? Is your role part of the HQ and closer to the centralised way of thinking? Are you regional and familiar with trying to create that balance of what’s real on the ground, versus what might be coming from that HQ? Have you been employed by the same employer your entire life or moved around a lot? Same industry or many industries? Leadership or professional track? Matrix organisation, work in hubs on projects, hierarchical or flat structures? Have you ever or always been permanently employed, contract, freelance or have your own business?
These questions aren’t exhaustive and there are more to dig into how perception is generated based on the Openness Matrix. Consider willingness and opportunity for a moment. There’s a big difference between somebody seeking out working with different cultures or working in global roles because they are interested in experiencing diversity. Contrast this to having been transferred to a different country or adapting as a teenager because their parents moved internationally. They may have some of the same exposure, but the experience and how they came to it will be different.
Consider your risk versus security preference. What size of organisation do you work for, the industry and your entrepreneurial bent? Attempt to track how you came to this view. What kind of Exposure, Education and Experience did you have throughout your life that have led to each decision point? How many of your decisions were reinforced or were they challenged, and you needed to break expectations? What is the role of wealth, necessity, goals, upbringing and responsibilities in how you have moved around the grid even simply in the choice of the work you currently do?
Given how interconnected a short use case of culture is, it becomes apparent that putting boxes into the grid under even the header of “culture” fails to represent the uniqueness of individual experience. The matrix is instead a web. Messy, beautiful, complex and always changing, exactly as humans are. Although the brain automatically wants to simplify and compartmentalise, what if instead we embrace the nuance and see the person first? What if we don’t seek to lock them down in our understanding and land on a static view and be willing to be surprised and fluid? That’s a big step towards getting the most value from each person we interact with. We will have created a space of inclusion and they will know it and we benefit too.
Breaking Down the Boxes – Thought Starters
Add into the mix your genetics and notions of intelligence. How much of that is influenced by opportunity versus the 3 E’s of proximity? What about your class or privilege? Your personality? Are you an introvert or an extrovert and what are your associations with this? How much do you enjoy being the expert versus being on the learning end of the stick and seeing new things? Were you encouraged to try and fail many things to find what you love or strive for perfection at one thing? What is your physiological experience of stress? How has this impacted what you seek versus retreat from? What is your health like and how has that changed? What impacts has your appearance and attractiveness had on you?
The impact of childhood experience as an influence is well recognised, so how does this apply to the Openness Matrix? How has the family unit you had as a child influenced how you think? What does biological, adopted or family of choice mean to you? What is your family unit like now? Are you single, married, co-habiting? Do you have children or want children? How big is your family? What impact did society have on your decisions? What political beliefs do you have? Where did they come from? Are they from the country you were born in? Are they the same as your parents, siblings or the people that you work around? Have they been the same throughout your life or have they evolved?
How much have you travelled? If you have travelled, what kind of trip was it? Holidays or travelling to challenge yourself and experience something different? Relaxing or adventurous? Domestic or international? What locations or countries have you travelled to? Native language speaking? Do the people look like you? Do you meet people outside of the tourism industry? Do you stay in global chains or small independent places? Did you travel growing up? What influence did this have?
This is all just the start of a conversation. I have missed so many incredible variables that make up the nuance of the constantly shifting and moving viewpoint of individuals, I can’t do it justice here. I hope at a minimum, I have shone a light on the risk of underrepresenting and excluding what we are attempting to embrace and include when we put people in boxes; their full unique diversity and difference.
This is exactly the kind of thing that the Camelot Inclusion and Diversity Think Tank tackles when we consider how we can be a positive influence on a more transformational versus tactical view of Inclusion and Diversity. We know we need to provoke our own thinking, get uncomfortable, be vulnerable, show compassion, challenge our judgement and assumptions if we are asking you to do the same. We also strive for action. In this spirit, you have a responsibility to take any insights you have from this article forward. From thought we move to action only by doing something:
- Who would benefit from the thinking in this article, the Openness Matrix, use cases, thought starters or a more person-centred approach? How can you help others find value?
- How can you use the Openness Matrix to understand your own perspectives? Who should you be talking to about this insight? What will you do differently from this information?
- What boxes do you need to break? How can the Openness Matrix help you next time you feel judgement? Where is that really coming from and how important is asserting your view? How can you be more curious?
- Where have you already made assumptions about what it took for someone to be in the place they are at today in their life or career when you really don’t know and have never asked? How can it help even in a normal day of work to remember we don’t know what it really took for someone to get through their morning and be mentally and physically “work ready” especially in times like now with Covid-19?
- Which area of difference feels most uncomfortable for you? Why? Where does this come from and what is the role of the 3 E’s in shifting this discomfort towards feeling the benefits of difference?
- What can you seek in the next 7 days that will expand you view or challenge your perception? Which of the 3 E’s are you most passive with? What if humility and bravery is a superpower and feels better than being the person who knows it all?
Heather Frost is the Founder and CEO of People and Practice and Co-Founder of Antithesis Coaching, and the is the Head of The Camelot Network’s Inclusion & Diversity Think Tank. Her work focuses on coaching, organisational development and cultural transformation, leadership, disruption and innovation.