Communication Is Key to Inclusive Organizations
Did you ever go to a middle school dance? Remember how the whole school showed up, but the boys and girls each stuck to their own sides? Even as adults, how often do we go to a friend’s house, and the men gather around the barbeque while the women gather in the kitchen? What we have here is a classic representation of diversity and inclusion: People from different sides of life gather in the same place, but they do not share the same conversations or engage in discussion with the people who are less like them. We see diversity, but not inclusion.
Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic these days. The U.S. is more diverse now than it’s ever been, and we know that companies benefit from embracing a diverse workforce. Where we really need work is around inclusion. It’s not enough to show up to the party. It’s important that we all dance together.
So, where is the work to embrace diversity and be inclusive? Why is it so difficult to build an inclusive work culture, and what work can we do now to move in that direction? The real work is in improved communication. It’s important to work on how we communicate with each other and how we see each other – on how we avoid boxing ourselves and each other in.
What does this mean? How many times have we heard people say things like, “I don’t think that’s a problem, and we need to focus on more pressing things” or, “This is great, but we’re not ready for it” or, “I don’t understand where you’re coming from, and this is the way we need to do things” or, “No need to get so emotional” or, “You’re taking this too personally”?
When we dismiss someone’s input or point of view because we don’t understand it, we’re shutting that person out and avoiding a conversation that would allow us to come to an understanding. We don’t encourage discussion by asking that person why they think the way they do or what has influenced their perspective on the issue at hand. We shut each other out, and we internalize the way we feel about the situation rather than allowing ourselves to embrace the initial discomfort and have the conversation.
As a child and adult, I have been constantly bullied. I was told that my gums were too big, my neighborhood wasn’t the best, I was too empathetic, I was too radical in my ideas, I was too direct, and on and on. To be clear, I embrace feedback and value understanding how other people react to the things I say and do. But it’s important to think about where this feedback is coming from. Why am I being told I’m too direct? Why do people say my ideas are too radical? Would they say the same thing if anything about me were different? It’s this last question that influences the context of the feedback, and it’s where the conversation should begin.