Inclusion matters more than ever

Somewhere close to you now,

There will be people feeling crippling anxiety that they cannot or do not want to show.

There will be people hiding conditions or vulnerabilities that they carry silently each day.

There will be people who are carers, not wanting to let this get in the way.

There will be people who wish they were carers, who don’t need reminding they’re not.

There will be people with deep held views about medical treatments and procedures.

There will be people looking for answers in their faith.

There will be people who fear that their difference makes them a target.

There will be people who struggle with addiction and dependency.

There will be people who suffer at the hands of another.

There will be people who worry constantly about someone they love,

And there will be people grieving in loss.

These people are our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours and our family. As they were last week, last month and last year. When we aren’t together, inclusion matters more than ever.

 

 

The answer probably isn’t simple

I’ve been writing a blog now for over ten years and over that period I’ve received praise, criticism, support, detraction and sometimes even hate. I often read comments or statements where people ask why anyone bothers blogging anymore, probably much easier to record a film of yourself just out of the gym and post it on LinkedIn.

Smashing it…

For me this has always been a way to set out thoughts or ideas that are buzzing around my head. Incomplete and sometimes inarticulate explorations of something that I’m trying to work out. My average post is about 400-500 words, so you’re never going to explore an idea fully in that space, but maybe set people off thinking too.

Sometimes I sit and write something that I know is going to be awkward. Over the years you develop a sense of the topics that tend to get people het up. The ones where there is a defined collective view that you’re questioning, or the topics where we are being overly British and avoiding. Sometimes the topics feel benign, but then hit a nerve.

Mostly the people that read these articles are people interested in the world of work, leadership, culture and human resource management. People that would espouse the exchanging of ideas, the ability to express unpopular views, the creation of environments that are open and challenging. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”, how many times have we heard that?

Today as I write this, for very different reasons, people are talking about kindness. There are numerous statements about just “being kind”. And I’m struck by the incredible tension that sits behind such a blanket statement. Be kind to everyone? The rapist? The terrorist? The domestic abuser? Or just the ones that we feel sorry for.

Last week I wrote that if we are serious about inclusion, we have to consider inclusion for all. I can’t help feel that there is a similar tension here. When we start to apply our own filters, our own rules, our own personal criteria then by definition we introduce a level of discrimination to our original assumption. Which is perhaps absolutely fine, perhaps absolutely human, but should come with a level of honesty, rather than a false image of purity.

If we are genuinely interested in creating better working cultures, better environments, event a society that is better for all. If we want these things then we need to understand that the answers are more likely to be found in messy compromise than clarity of simple assertion, that they are more likely to involve us having to calibrate our own beliefs and opinions as much as anyone else.

I’ll leave you with this from Barack Obama, which sums it up nicely.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,”

“The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

Inclusion means everyone

I’m not sure how many of you saw the social media fallout from the Good Morning Britain debate that led to Iain Dale walking out of the studio. If you need to catch up with it you can here. It was supposed to be a discussion about mental health and wellbeing, but instead the discussion became more about the behaviour of the people involved.

As if we needed another reminder about the increasing sense of polarisation in our society…but we got one. The social media reaction was typical with accusations flying around. Iain is a middle aged, white male, so clearly “gammon”. Grace is a left wing, young female, so clearly “snowflake”. And Nihal – well he isn’t from round here is he?

What weighs on my mind and genuinely worries me is how we start to find a way to bring people together and what role organisations have to play. If we believe in inclusion, then we need to believe that everyone, that’s everyone, has a right to their view, their beliefs, their opinions, their religion. Everything.

That means we have to accept Donald Trump. We have to accept Bernie Sanders.  We have to accept Ilhan Omar. We have to accept Jeremy Corbyn.  We have to accept Diane Abbott.  We have to accept Boris Johnson. We have to accept Gerry Adams. We have to accept Marine Le Pen. And of course, I could go on.

We don’t have to like them, but we have to accept they have a right to their views, their opinions and their difference.

We have to find a way for people to bring their views and difference together in a constructive way, to debate and exchange views. To respect and include the multitude of difference that makes our society rich. We don’t do this at the expense of anyone, this shouldn’t be seen as a zero sum game, but instead as a means to grow and further our knowledge and understanding, to create more for everyone, not less for some.

Of course, I am a middle aged, white male. So I appreciate that immediately I stand here in a position of historical privilege and open to the accusation that I don’t understand what it is to walk in the shoes. But of course, none of us do, not really. We all bring something different, which is why inclusion really bloody matters and why we need to hear from all voices equally loudly.

So here is to understanding, tolerance, fairness and kindness to all. Whilst it might feel a long way away some times, it has to be worth the fight.

 

 

Lionel Shriver is wrong

It was with a level of incredulity that I read the comments by Lionel Shriver over the weekend about the inclusivity agenda being championed by Penguin Random House. For those who know me, I spent the best part of 9 years in the business and would like to think that I was in some way responsible for the creation and direction of many of the approaches – not least the removal of the requirement to have a degree.

Shriver, writing in The Spectator, presents a shambolic and intellectually inarticulate assessment of the work that is being done, summarised by the BBC article here.

Anyone who has ever tried to champion inclusion will tell you that these arguments are nothing new. But they are almost always entirely articulated by those in positions of power. I have yet to hear from an underrepresented group who says, “do nothing, the best people are already in place”. And in a sense, that is the first major challenge that you  face.

In changing any system to be more inclusive and diverse, you are ultimately dependent on those in power to cede their right to that position and to change the system that has perpetuated their dominance. That’s why social mobility has been so hard to tackle, because in many ways you’re asking the rich wealthy and powerful to make things a little harder for generations of their family to come.

The aim of our work, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, is to make the world of work fairer and more transparent. We have to do everything we can to ensure that the best succeed, regardless of their background. That’s what inclusion is about and to suggest in any way it is dumbing down is insulting, ill-informed and naive. The system in which we operate is unintentionally rigged towards certain groups and certain backgrounds and all we are doing is unpicking that bias.

As a note of caution, we do have to be careful to ensure the work that we do remains true to that goal – to allow the best to succeed. Diversity and inclusion programmes that become tokenistic displays of good intention are as unhelpful as the problem they are trying to solve. Where Shriver is right is to call out the risk of losing focus on the real change that needs to be made, increasing fairness and allowing potential to shine, on pretty much everything else she is wrong and woefully out of touch.