Founder, Evosis Limited
What is Courageous Inclusion?
Real inclusion takes courage, and it takes heart. It requires an ability to understand societal inequality, its impact (both positive and negative) on yourself, based on aspects of your identity and personality, as well as that of others. However, the prize is worth the effort, individuals can be their whole, authentic selves and achieve their true potential, and organisations can truly benefit from team interactions where “the whole is other than the sum of its parts” (Kafka).
Our definition of courageous inclusion is:
“The whole-hearted act of sensing, inquiring, disclosing and learning in service of integrating the similarities and differences of a group of people; To incorporate everyone's contributions into conversations, idea generation and decision making to improve organisational outcomes. These differences may include aspects of identity such as sex, gender identity, age, disability, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. However, they should also take into account personality, performance strengths, professional expertise and experience.” (France 2019).
Our Courageous inclusion model:
Our Courageous inclusion model:
Creating a safe environment for challenging conversations
Courage – it takes heart
These conversations take courage, a deep breath and step into the unknown. They need space for experimentation and the ability to be clumsy if it leads to learning. ‘Politically correct' behaviour is not part of the deal, its superficial and based on a lack of understanding. To achieve courageous inclusion, we need to ask difficult questions and stick with the discomfort until we reach mutual understanding. I know I'm asking a lot, my mentor describes it as ‘evolving the human race'; and it's worth it because our goal goes beyond organisational performance, it’s about people's fundamental human rights.
Conversations about diversity and inclusion, are inherently personal. It's therefore essential to listen to the whole of your experience, beyond the words. Sight includes paying attention to body language, taking in the whole of your environment and the impact it is having on you. Hearing, notice the tone of voice, other verbalisations, silences. Also, language can create a barrier; check for understanding when using colloquialisms or if you’re communicating with a non-native speaker of whatever language you are using. Touch and feel include physiological experiences which can connect to your feelings (butterflies in your tummy signalling anxiety). Smell and taste connect you to your whole-body experience.
Go deep into your experience, take into account what all of your senses are telling you, what is the other person experiencing and how you are responding to it? Sensing deeply is especially important when you are experiencing discomfort, which will always offer an opportunity for learning.
The dictionary definition of inquiring is “to seek to learn by asking". The intention is important, how you approach a conversation will be ‘sensed' by the other person and judgemental, or leading questions will likely result in a breakdown of the conversation or at least one which is less rich. When inquiring on issues around diversity, it is essential to remember that the subject you're discussing is hugely personal and probably causes the person you're talking to distress, any level between discomfort to trauma.
Also, it’s worth considering, what do you want/need to learn about this particular aspect of diversity? Are you working from your privilege (e.g. like me having conversations about race, colour and ethnicity) or are you exploring further what may be an aspect of your identity (e.g. when I first explored what it meant to be bisexual or began having conversations about mental health)?
Whatever your reason, consider the impact your questions may have on the other person. Either way, it is not the other person’s responsibility to tell you the most intimate details about themselves or teach you about their identity. Use all of your sensing skills to assess the impact of your questions on the other person and be prepared to change the topic if needed.
Having said that as a ‘role model,' I try to always be available for conversations. I understand it when people say ‘it's not my responsibility to teach you about x, y or z', however, if we always take that stance, how will people ever learn what they need to know? How will we re-educate and fight stigma and ‘isms’ and phobia? I'd say it would be impossible to fight sexism, homophobia, racism etc. from that position. However, there are times when I feel more/less well-resourced, and people with whom I feel more/less safe to share details. I will always have the conversation, and I always consciously choose the level to which I make myself available for the discussion.
Disclosing is about speaking your truth, being honest about how you experience the world and how other people’s behaviour impacts on your identity and ability to be yourself, completely and authentically, at all times.
Of the four stages, this is the most personal and probably the one requiring the most courage. I'd also say disclosure also requires practice. When I first began to talk about aspects of my identity such as my sexuality and mental health struggles, I was often unbounded, unstructured, emotional and didn't have an apparent reason for what I was sharing with whom. I just wanted to talk about my experiences, get them out and not be hiding in the proverbial closet anymore.
Now I'm much more practised. I've also had counselling and professional supervision to help me process and integrate the impact of some of the more significant experiences and elements of my identity, which have shaped me. I now choose what I say, why I'm saying it and to whom. I can be much more emotionally controlled and also less vulnerable. I still get angry and frustrated, I’m just more able to use that in a positive way.
However, we all probably need to go through the unfocused, emotional sharing to get to the clarity. So when you do, I'd suggest the following. 1) Begin by sharing with your close friends, mentors and/or colleagues, only people you feel comfortable around. 2) Ground yourself by staying in the moment, take some deep breaths and keep connected to your purpose. 3) Use ‘I’ statements, be intentional that you are sharing your experiences and don't try and speak for others. 4) Request others not to seek to ‘soothe' you if you do get emotional, you're an adult, getting in touch with deep emotions, and that's more than okay, its necessary for your processing, others who try to take this away from you could stop your development, simply pause and take deep breaths until you’re ready to carry on.
If disclosing is the most personal of the four stages, I think learning is the hardest. This is the point at which what someone else says or does connects with our previous experience in a way which changes our opinions, attitudes and behaviours. For this to happen, learning includes accepting what you hear, that person’s experience, as their reality, which can be hard if it is different from yours. It's even harder when you begin to understand that something about you and/or your identity may have impacted them in some way. When this happens, it's good to notice your reaction and how it is grounded in your identity. When you demonstrate, you are open to this kind of learning; the relationship you build with others becomes stronger. Like the other phases of the model, it's best when the exchange is reciprocal.
The other stages of the model are necessary to achieve learning. Learning is necessary to create an inclusive environment, redress power imbalances and fight stigma, phobia and ‘isms’.
Why is inclusion important?
In 2017, Deloitte reported that 69% of executives rate diversity and inclusion an important issue (up from 59%in 2014) and 38% of executives report that the primary sponsor of the company’s diversity efforts is the CEO. Not surprising as the evidence demonstrates that leaders, teams and organisations who are inclusive achieve fantastic results.
When leaders, teams and organisations are able to have conversations at this level of inclusion they are able to unlock all of the advantages mentioned at the beginning of the blog. To get there however takes some practice. This model can be used to underpin experiential development for leaders and teams (e.g. top teams, or in-tact functional teams) help create an environment where the culture of the whole organisation can achieve an inclusive culture. Courageous inclusion can also be part of training for role models and allies (people who actively support others who are disadvantaged e.g. men who create opportunities for women to advance their careers). Also, the model can be a core part of diversity networks with an overarching goal of inclusion.
As I hope you have gleaned from this blog, I am passionate about inclusion and developing people’s skill to have these kinds of conversations. If you’d like to have a conversation about how my approach could be used in your organisation or would like me to speak about my personal and professional experiences which have led to the development of this model, do please get in touch.
* Deloitte review January 2018: The diversity and inclusion revolution: Eight powerful truths by Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon
§ Research by Deloitte. Juliet Bourke, Stacia Garr, Ardie van Berkel, Jungle Wong (2017) Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap (2017 Global Human Capital Trends)
± HBR March 2019 Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One. Juliet Bourke & Andrea Espedido