When Inclusion is NOT Inclusive: Ensuring That Inclusion Really is For Everyone


It should be obvious to readers that inclusion is a fundamental, foundational, and essential part of what we do here at InclusionINC. Inclusion is part of the broader diversity and inclusion discussion, but it’s broader than diversity alone.


Diversity in a workplace, for example, simply means that diverse groups are “represented” within the organization. Representation, in this sense, really means “present.” If a company’s employee population reflects the demographic makeup of its locality or the country as a whole, it is often said to be diverse. But that doesn’t mean the company is necessarily inclusive of that diversity.


What Do We Mean by “Inclusion”?


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) tells us:


“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected, and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential. Inclusion should be reflected in an organization’s culture, practices and relationships that are in place to support a diverse workforce. Inclusion is the process of creating a working culture and environment that recognizes, appreciates, and effectively utilizes the talents, skills, and perspectives of every employee; uses employee skills to achieve the agency’s objectives and mission; connects each employee to the organization; and encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness. We define inclusion as a set of behaviors (culture) that encourages employees to feel valued for their unique qualities and experience a sense of belonging.” (our emphasis added)


The Key Elements of Workplace Inclusion


It's a thorough and very good definition. We’ve highlighted some points we feel are particularly pertinent:

  1. Inclusion means focusing on the needs of every individual

  2. Inclusion should be reflected in an organization’s culture, practices, and relationships

  3. Inclusion encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness

But while these sentiments seem logical and reasonable, in practice it’s not always quite so easy for organizations to actually practice inclusion.


A recent example from the sports world illustrates this.


The Challenge of Practicing Inclusion for Everyone


On June 4, the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team held a Pride Night at one of its games, during which players were asked to wear specially made rainbow decals on their hats and jerseys. Five players refused to wear the decals, citing their faith as a factor in the decision.


Understandably, many members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies took offense to the refusal of these players to participate in some Pride Night activities. The LGBTQ+ community has fought a long battle for inclusiveness—one that many continue to fight.


And yet…inclusion also requires that organizations respect the cultural, religious, and personal viewpoints of all members of their organizations. That’s a tough divergence to navigate, of course.


Jason Adam, one of the players who chose not to wear the patch attempted to explain:


"A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision," Adam said. "So it's a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here." (our emphasis added)


The philosopher Voltaire said something similar several centuries ago: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”


We would add: “…and I will respect you, listen to you, involve you, and seek to understand you as equal players and partners in achieving the goals and objectives of our organization.”


Ultimately, inclusion is about ensuring employees (and others) have a sense of belonging. In fact, that word “belonging” has recently been added to the D&I, or DEI, mix to provide us with another acronym in this space—DEIB.


Policies supporting inclusiveness for one group shouldn’t end up making other groups feel excluded. It’s a balancing act that involves listening to diverse groups within an organization and crafting policies—and practices—that respect and account for the different viewpoints and experiences that inclusion is all about.


Be inclusive! To everyone.


Recommended Reading

Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.


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