Blog Post 10-24-13

Where Are You On the Journey of Inclusion?

You may have seen the inspiring Guinness commercial that recently went viral on the internet. A group of men are playing basketball in wheelchairs. Chairs crash and clang and sometimes even tip over, but the men are having a great time. The game ends, and all but one of the players stands up and walks toward the door, escorting between them the only person who actually uses a wheelchair. Someone comments, “We’re starting to get the hang of this!” Then—of course—they go out for a beer, because this is a beer commercial. The narrator says, “The choices we make will reveal the true nature of our character.”

In diversity and inclusion sessions we talk about the diversity journey, in which we begin with tolerance of difference and move gradually through acceptance and respect to valuing and seeking diversity as a competitive advantage. When it comes to ensuring that every person on the team becomes a fully contributing member, our efforts at inclusion must travel that same journey. At the lowest level we may hire someone “despite” their disability; at the next level we make a reasonable accommodation for them, such as modifying a work station. We might progress to inviting them to non-essential functions that we wouldn’t normally take the trouble for, such as a retirement party or a luncheon. But at the highest level of that journey we begin to think about how to include ourselves in their activities, rather than just how to include them in ours. We take that step from watching a wheelchair basketball game to getting in a wheelchair to try it ourselves.

And herein lies our greatest advantage, because not only do people feel more like fully functional members of the team, but we have learned something new by seeing through a different lens. And as we make the choice to gain new perspectives from our inclusion journey, we become better suited to serve the needs of our diverse customers; the inclusion journey becomes a reciprocal force for the benefit of every stakeholder.

Here are some things to consider as you ponder your own inclusion journey:

• Am I taking steps to understand the differing frames of reference other team members have?
• Am I clearly demonstrating and explaining the culture of the organization to newcomers? Or is it possible that our culture has become a “secret handshake” that you only get if you play golf with the boss or share the same frame of reference as others on the team?
• What are the specific behaviors of my team members at the highest levels of inclusion? What are the things we need to start doing, stop doing and continue doing to advance on the inclusion journey? And how do I communicate these things to everyone?
• Lastly, how often are we taking a step back to assess where we are on the journey? What questions are we asking of ourselves? What feedback are we seeking from every member of the team?

As with any journey, the inclusion journey is never finished. It’s a process rather than a destination, so we must continually learn, grow, and monitor our progress as we travel. The choices we make along the way will reveal the true nature of our organization’s character.