10 Lessons to Learn (and Unlearn) To Foster Inclusion

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10 Lessons to Learn (and Unlearn) To Foster Inclusion

By Dr. Nika White; President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”

The lessons you’ve learned from your friends, family, and colleagues about DEI can either make or break your inclusion efforts. That’s because not every lesson is helpful towards fostering real inclusion. In fact, there are quite a few lessons to unlearn that can significantly change the outcome of your efforts.

Learning new ideas and unlearning old ones can help you stay agile and up-to-date on what can move the needle for DEI in your organization. Here are 10 lessons to learn (and unlearn) to foster inclusion.

1. UNLEARN that inclusion is an obligation. Instead, think of it as an opportunity.

Many organizations approach DEI as an obligation, a check-list, or something to accomplish in a few weeks or months. This mindset is limiting your organization’s ability to foster true inclusion. Unlearn the idea that inclusion is a constant struggle and uphill battle. Doing so can minimize the frustration you experience when attempting to do DEI work.

Instead, learn to see inclusion as an opportunity to develop a skill, sensitivity, and compassionate approach to leadership and business. It’s an opportunity for an organization to stand out and up for the people who work with and for it. It’s an opportunity to develop new ideas and get voices at the table that would otherwise be silent.

If you find yourself asking this question: “what canIdo to advance DEI?” (obligation mindset). Try asking this question instead: “what can DEI do to advance my organization and society?” (opportunity mindset).

2. LEARN to allow people to show up authentically without compromising your core values.

There’s the notion that if you allow employees, coworkers, and staff to show up fully and authentically at work, the company values may be compromised. But the truth is, your values are your values and they should remain a solid foundation for the people you work with to latch onto and get behind.

The values of your company shouldn’t stifle the ability of workers to show up authentically. Workers should still be able to express honesty, share their lived experiences, passions, and anticipations without overstepping the company’s values.

The key is to hire people that uphold your organization’s values, while also adding their unique and authentic contribution to the culture.

3. UNLEARN the idea that inclusion is solely the responsibility of those who carry the title of Diversity Officer or HR Professional.

Fostering inclusion is more than just a title, it’s a leadership competency. Having an inclusive mindset is a leadership skill that can influence people at all levels of the organization. Any staff member can foster an inclusive mindset by modeling inclusion in the workplace and holding themselves accountable for its success and execution. Diversity officers and HR professionals are there to spearhead DEI initiatives but everyone in the organization should carry the work forward.

If your organization is looking to practice better communication, conflict resolution, and other inclusive skills, developing buy-in for inclusion work can be a helpful strategy to advance DEI. You can do this by decentralizing all of the inclusion work on the shoulders of diversity and HR professionals and distributing the responsibility for its execution throughout the company. 

4. LEARN the difference between equality and equity.

The two terms: equality and equity, are often conflated. They’re not the same.

If equality is the end goal, equity is the means. The challenge with equality is that it doesn’t take into account that people are coming from different starting points. That means what each individual needs to be successful on the team can vary from person to person. An equity lens recognizes that the distribution of power, resources, and support must be distributed based on individual needs. Not a blanket distribution where everyone gets the same thing, no matter their unique situation.

In layman’s terms, equality is like giving everyone a shoe, and equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits. Being intentional in equity work is important. The more we can start to move our organizations towards equity, the closer we get to seeing a meaningful outcome in DEI.

5. UNLEARN that diversity is skin deep.

When we think of DEI, we often think of race, gender, and physical ability. Diversity is much broader than that.

There are plenty of identities that constitute diversity, many of which are invisible to the eye. For example, sexual preference, spiritual beliefs, and mental disabilities.

In order to foster more inclusion, we need to be more sophisticated about how we define diversity and to keep in mind that it’s not just about optics. It’s about creating an environment where people with different visible (and invisible) identities can feel seen, heard, and included.

6. LEARN that biases aren’t solely in people, they’re also in processes and systems.

Institutional discrimination and systematic lack of inclusion are big players in the conversation on DEI. Although individuals may hold biases, they’re ultimately reinforced by processes and systems that are inherently exclusive.

Part of fostering more inclusion in the workplace is running audits and assessments of your company’s culture, processes, and systems. By undergoing an audit, you can better understand how and why people are perpetuating exclusive and discriminatory behavior in the workplace. When you look underneath the hood, you’re able to see the institutional causes of exclusion and discrimination and work towards solving them.

By repealing, reevaluating, and reimaging those structures, the organization can create more inclusive processes and systems that foster inclusion for years to come.

7. UNLEARN that political correctness is the only way to navigate conversations around DEI.

Tip-toeing around the topic of DEI out of the fear of offending a fellow staff member is a common practice these days. The fear of making mistakes or saying the wrong thing can lead many people to avoid DEI conversations and efforts altogether.

These fears are real. But they shouldn’t stop your organization from addressing DEI issues. Creating a brave space, not a politically correct space, around DEI can allow your organization to peel back the layers of underlying issues and begin to cultivate effective communication.

Facing the fear by acting out of bravery, engaging in conversation, and asking questions can help foster inclusion. These are signs of authentic allyship and a commitment to inclusion even in the face of discomfort.

8. LEARN that inclusion isn’t about activity, it’s about impact.

Many companies get stuck in the hamster wheel of hosting regular DEI events and activities while believing that those singular actions are going to make a big impact. Activities like one-off workshops and meetings are a good start but won’t help your organization achieve lasting change.

Working towards DEI and cultivating it in your organization is a journey, not a destination. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes consistent, dedicated, and deliberate effort to turn one-off sessions into on-going conversations, actions, and initiatives that create real impact in the organization.

9. UNLEARN that diversity means difference and difference is good, bad, right, or wrong.

There’s an idea that having a diverse workforce is inherently “good” or “bad”, “right”, or “wrong”.

Some people get offended by the idea of diversity because they see it as something that’s dividing the organization, rather than unifying it.

Unlearn the idea that diversity is black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. Diversity is a grey area with its own strengths and challenges. It’s worth reframing diversity and inclusion as a unifying asset to the organization rather than a good or a bad thing.

10. LEARN to acknowledge your power and privilege and use it to honorably help someone else.

Power and privilege are sticky topics for some people. Many don’t want to acknowledge they have power and privilege that they didn’t earn. The fact remains that power and privilege can reach beyond the confines of race, income, or gender. They can encompass many areas like physical ability, whether you grew up in a two-parent household, your education level, and so on. 

Unlearn that power and privilege are solely confined to whiteness, richness, or the male gender. Learn that if you want to be a more effective ally, acknowledging your personal privilege is essential. And then, use your power to help others is an impactful way to foster inclusion.

I can help you learn and unlearn these lessons.

As a diversity consultant, I’ve helped dozens of organizations like yours foster inclusivity from the inside out. In just 60 minutes, we can discuss and strategize about your organization’s DEI plans and goals. Or, I can coach your executive team and foster lasting change that can be felt from top to bottom. Whatever your goals are for fostering an inclusive, diverse workplace, contact me and my team to guide you on your journey.

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