National Inclusion Week is fast approaching, so what better time to reflect on the theme of inclusion and diversity?
Whilst there is always more work to be done, it seems that inclusion continues to move up on the business agenda, and there are signs that we’re heading in the right direction.
So to celebrate National Inclusion Week, and my first six months in post, I’d like to share what I believe are the key points of diversity and inclusion.
Consider this a lesson in inclusion 101.
What does inclusion mean?
My time in this role has really given me space to think about how I define inclusion.
This is a complicated topic, because inclusion means different things to different people; here’s the way I think about it.
First off, it’s important to separate inclusion from diversity.
Diversity is very much about people: the workforce.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is about the systems of the workplace, and the way that organisations are built and operated. It’s about managing the organisation in a way that enables and empowers everyone by making room for the individual needs of all employees.
An inclusive workplace is one where the whole team, from the C-suite to the most junior worker, is given a space that fits them and the circumstances of their lives. Should you need to adjust your working conditions for religious reasons, it will be made possible; if your line manager wanted to change their working hours in order to care for an elderly parent, then they will be allowed to do so.
Essentially, to be inclusive as an organization you need to work around your people, so that you suit and embrace their lives and that there is no negative discrimination.
Connecting is crucial
Thinking about definitions brings me to another huge learning from the last few months, which is our tendency to group people together simply because it’s convenient.
When we collect a diverse range of people under one banner we smooth out the differences that exist between them. The individuality and uniqueness of groups can be lost in the collective.
A good example of this in the UK is the way we talk about the BAME community. This grouping can be helpful at times, but there is also the danger that we think of the lives, experiences, contributions and backgrounds of all BAME people as the same.
And this is manifestly not the case. BAME stands for black, Asian and minority ethnic – a very broad range.
The experience of a black person working in the UK is likely to be very different from the experience of someone from a Southeast Asian background; this fact is hidden when we group them all under one category.
It’s a similar story for the LGBT+ community: the experience of a transgender man is very different from the experience of a gay man. A single shared label disguises this.
This presents a bit of a paradox.
Our ambition is to create a workplace experience that is unique to every person and recognises, values and supports us all as individuals. And yet it seems that a route to achieving this ambition is to recognise where there are common challenges and common issues that need to be resolved.
In short: sometimes it is valuable to use the common labels that obscure the very individuality that inclusion is supposed to celebrate.
These common issues do need to be addressed, but they have to be done so in a way that recognises that there are differences underneath them. We can use the BAME category, for instance, so long as we don’t forget to look beyond it at the different experiences of all those who think of themselves as BAME. Indeed there are some BAME people who do not like the categorisation, expressly because it combines different people as if they were one.
Equally, we must be aware that it’s not enough to solve the common challenges alone – there are issues that only small groups face that need to be solved in parallel with the common ones.
The only way to navigate through the stickiness of collective vs individual challenges is to connect with each other.
You need to encourage people to meet and collaborate with as many different people as possible to promote the idea that everyone has different needs. This aligns perfectly with the idea of ‘connect for inclusion’, one of the themes of National Inclusion Week.
An inspiring event
At this stage you might be wondering why National Inclusion Week is so important.
These kinds of event are sometimes criticised as ‘token’. Certainly, having seven days to celebrate inclusion is of little value if you don’t actually advance inclusive policies for the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
But I’m lucky enough to belong to an organisation that’s committed to strive towards an inclusive workplace (I feel that my role as our ambassador for diversity and inclusion is proof of this!).
And in fact this is why I feel that events like National Inclusion Week are important: they allow people from other organisations and other industries to witness the good work that we are doing.
It’s an opportunity to inspire people who haven’t come into contact with ideas about inclusion. If we can share our information and initiatives with them, we can invite them to join the conversation.
Similarly, these events also reaffirm our own commitment to inclusion. When we engage people from all over the company – even (and perhaps especially) those who are not normally involved with these issues – we can activate the whole company to be advocates for diversity and inclusion.
I believe that this is significant because businesses have a voice in society.
As human beings, we spend a very significant proportion of our time in the workplace. What happens in our working lives has a profound effect on us – so making changes at work can encourage a more open and more inclusive society as a whole.
For this reason I actually see it as the responsibility of organisations to implement inclusive policies as a way of supporting the wider community.
A busy week ahead
So what are our plans for the week?
It’s going to be packed with lots of different events.
Our Disabilities network, our Women’s Business Network, our Cultural Diversity Network, and our LGBT+ network, Shine, have joined forces to produce an allies guide. That will be used to launch a campaign to recruit allies for all aspects of diversity from both inside and outside of the business. This will be accompanied by a webcast and other engagements through the week.
We will be celebrating the achievements of our Inclusion Networks and announcing the new cohort of torchbearers for our Stand Out programme which highlights our company’s role models for diversity.
There will also be a chance to get competitive with a quiz running throughout the week. Plus we’ve got a range of digital activities lined up, including a YouTube playlist, a crowd-sourced Be Completely You Spotify playlist, and an exciting webcast on Fit for Digital in which we will be investigating how strength in diversity and inclusion can make your company digital-ready.
So it’s clear that we’re looking forward to a great series of events this National Inclusion Week – just as we are looking forward to continuing to strive for inclusion during the rest of the year.
National Inclusion Week runs from the 25th of September to the 1st of October. Find out more here.
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