“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” – Verna Myers
The world is blessed with diversity, and yet, we often fail to recognise it as such. Some people are intimidated by diversity, so they try to stay away and instead, be tolerant with it. Others are more welcoming and celebrate it. However, while we are aware and accepting of our differences as people, is that enough without inclusion?
Diversity and Inclusion Goes Hand-in-Hand
Diversity is no longer restricted to differences in demographics like age, race, gender, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability. It also includes family composition, lifestyles, education level, opinions, personalities, and perspectives.
In many companies, diversity is a policy, which means they accept these demographic differences and welcome them in the workplace. Companies believe in the benefits of having a diverse environment so that different people can work together and bring out their individual strengths.
However, diversity in the workplace cannot stand alone without inclusion. Inclusion is a conscious act of welcoming people of different backgrounds, races, and generations. It’s about a feeling of belongingness. Employees are appreciated, valued, and most importantly, respected.
Take, for example, a community with diverse families. This community may be a peaceful one, and families from different demographics are welcome to purchase their homes there. However, if these families live there without being invited to community events, they won’t feel like they belong in the first place. These families won’t feel respected and supported as part of the community.
Without inclusion, diversity is only tolerated and not respected. This can bring about indifferences. Instead of people living together and appreciating differences, they shun away from each other.
Leaders, whether in a corporate or social setting, are important role models in practising inclusion. When leaders are seen making an effort to include everyone through appreciating their work and listening to what they have to say, other people can be inspired to do the same.
Barriers of Diversity and Inclusion
- Unconscious Bias
We all carry a level of bias, many of which we got from our experiences, cultural backgrounds, religion, or the environment we grew up in. Most often, we are unaware of how these biases affect what we believe. And until we become self-aware that we have these unconscious beliefs and truly understand what drives how we think and feel, we can’t fully celebrate diversity and inclusion genuinely.(1)
- Lack of Sensitivity
Being sensitive to what we say and do helps in the success of diversity and inclusion in whatever environment we are. It takes one joke or comment to offend someone else. When people feel that they are not respected and belittled, it can result in low self-esteem and undeveloped potential. Self-awareness kicks in here, too. Apart from being aware of our biases and beliefs, we should also be mindful of our words and actions.(2)
- Unfair Perceptions
One of the issues with diversity is that we build our assumptions and perceptions of a person who comes from a different demographic. Often, we are guilty of stereotyping, too. When a person acts differently, we think differently of him. If a person comes from a minority group, we may think that we are more successful, skilled, and talented than him.
These perceptions are unfair. Not only because they aren’t necessarily true; what happens is we now try to look for reasons or affirmations to prove ourselves right. We didn’t give this person a chance to begin with.
What’s Normal Anyway?
As we speak of differences, we should ask ourselves what is our fundamental understanding of differences? We react to differences because we believe in normalcy, however, does it exist?
The concept of normalcy is relative.(3) For the Japanese, they eat using chopsticks all the time. For us, we prefer using the spoon and fork. Does that make the Japanese not normal? No. We should realise that our belief system is not the be-all-end-all. We cannot impose our personal views on others and then judge them for being different. It’s when people keep holding on to their belief of normalcy that they grow more averse to differences.
How Can We Encourage Diversity and Inclusion?
The great thing about dealing with diversity and inclusion is that we can choose to play a more active role. When we practice self-awareness and become more respectful of these differences, we eliminate biases and relate to people with genuine interest and appreciation. Here are some of the ways we can celebrate diversity and practice inclusion:
- Ask with Curiosity
In our article on tolerance and respect, we spoke about how people react differently when they are merely tolerating an opinion. The main difference is that people who respect others’ opinions are driven by curiosity. They don’t just accept an opinion; they ask to learn about the reasons behind it.
Similarly, with belief systems and cultural backgrounds, we shouldn’t be content with knowing what these are. Instead, we should express a genuine interest in understanding them. It’s human nature to judge what we don’t understand. So, to veer away from judgements, we engage with people different from us so we can learn and support our differences.
- Listen with Care
How many times have we listened to someone talk just to come up with a brilliant opinion or statement of our own? Or how often have we let someone pick their brain in front of us without truly understanding what they’re saying?
The act of listening involves active participation. We don’t just hear them; we try to understand them. Let’s avoid making conversations always about us. We have this tendency to take space in discussions, so we become self-absorbed at the price of not being fully present with the person we’re talking to. Simply put, listen more, talk less.
- Use What Instead of Why
When speaking with someone, it’s best to ask questions that start with “what” rather than “why.” Imagine pouring our heart and soul to a friend and then she asks “why do you think that way?”(4)
Usually, we either go in defensive mode trying to explain the reasons behind it, or we may feel we’re being accused of thinking the wrong way. When that happens, we can take offence, and there goes what could’ve been a great conversation.
So instead of asking someone “why do you think that way?” ask “What makes you think that?” The latter is more inviting to an open discussion and encourages honesty and transparency. It shows more sensitivity, as well.
- Let Go of Biases and Assumptions
When we hold on to our biases and assumptions, we cannot fully relate to other people. We believe what we want to. How will there be room for understanding if we can’t communicate with an open mind?
One of the culprits of indifference is the lack of communication. People prefer to steer clear of things they don’t know instead of putting more effort into learning and understanding. As a result, we tighten our grip on our unconscious biases.
While humans are social animals and we love to belong, we still have a bias towards people who are similar to us. We are fond of engaging in conversations with like-minded people. Why? It’s because we prefer comfortable and convenient mingling rather than being curious about someone.
We have to start changing our outlook. The more we learn from other people with diverse backgrounds, the more we grow as people. We become more compassionate and welcoming.
- Share the Love
Fight hate with love. It’s not a hard concept to understand, but we find it hard to practice because we have this tendency to choose what and who we love. If we like them, we understand them. If we don’t, then we care less.
However, love encompasses all. When we let the power of love drive us, it encourages us to accept, understand, and celebrate. No one has to tell us what to do because we know in our heart what’s right. We care and empathise more. We see the beauty in differences, and we’re more than happy to get to know different people and work in harmony with them.
W.S. Gilbert once said, “love makes the world go around.” For Franklin P. Jones, “love is what makes the ride worthwhile.” If we focus on love for ourselves and others, nothing can go wrong.
We may be born in different places, have different skin colours, practice different cultures and religions, but one truth remains — we are all humans. We all matter. Our demographic differences don’t make anyone better. As soon as we realise this fact of life, it will be easier to do away with prejudices and work with love. Love is the key to diversity, and that key is abundantly available in all of us.