I recently started reading Inclusion on Purpose by Ruchika Tulshyan. It came at me from quite a few different sources, and it fit exactly in line with the focus I have in my work.
It’s a tough read. Even though I know I have good intentions, in reading the book, I can quickly identify times and places where I wasn’t inclusive. It bothers me to think about them. It absolutely makes me uncomfortable to reflect on and acknowledge my actions and the possible consequences to someone.
It doesn’t feel very good to be uncomfortable. To address things in myself, in my privilege (or what I like to think of as the “there but for the grace of God go I”.), that make me face the fact that a lot of my success is due to the color of my skin, the education of my parents, the color of my eyes, … (the list goes on and on).
Of course, as a woman, I also get to experience the other side of the equation. Especially as I chose to study electrical engineering and work in the automotive industry, where women are pretty few and far between.
Thankfully through active company programs and what I see as General Motors’ very active role in driving diversity (albeit in response to lawsuits), I had access to mentors who looked like me as well as other mentors and sponsors who didn’t but truly believed in the value of a diverse workplace. But despite these programs, throughout my career I have definitely felt excluded.
Maybe it was a company event where the amount of alcohol consumed made me both subject to too much attention and strong pressure to join in, drinking more than I would have been comfortable with.
Or it could have been the colleague who wasn’t anxious to share knowledge with me because I “wouldn’t be there long as I would just leave soon to have some man’s babies”.
Perhaps the time in evaluating cutbacks of people when I was told I was “unbalanced”.
Or when I simply couldn’t understand the conversations around me because I was from another country.
Around the world, in many different situations and contexts, I have been on the outside. I’m also on the inside through a lot of the engineering professional Western world through my race, education, and class.
Both of these help, and both hurt.
It helps to be on the outside, because it is a lot easier for me to empathize with others who are. I can’t deny that bias exists, because I have experienced both advantage and dis-advantage because of it.
It’s awfully hard to be on the outside though, because it goes against our basic human need of belonging. Through my work with the compassion cultivation program, I identified a significant emotional trigger for me: not belonging. Through the meditation and reflection, I realized that my own unmet need of belonging limited my ability to feel compassion, particularly for my nearest and dearest. I also could recognize times at work when I turned aggressive or defensive when I perceived myself to be excluded.
Humans need to feel a sense of belonging. Work is a major part of our life, both time and energy. When we don’t feel we belong at work, we experience stress and trauma that can be compared to PTSD of veterans returning from active duty.
Think about that. Any of your colleagues who routinely do not feel they belong can experience similar symptoms to a soldier in active combat.
Let that sit with you a minute.
Then think about your colleagues.
What have you done to help them belong?
Or, the tougher question, what might you have done that makes them feel they don’t belong?
This is a harder one, because we don’t intend to exclude any one. We don’t want to hurt someone. But how often do we think about what impact our behavior and actions have? How often do we think about the things we do when we are in the majority that excludes minorities? How often do you reflect on the privilege you have?
Just to ask a few…
… In meeting a colleague from another country or culture, is one of your first questions where they are from? (This was one of my big misses. If the first thing we do is define a difference with a colleague, it serves to emphasize exclusion rather than inclusion)
… Spoken another language in a group when you know someone there doesn’t speak or understand?
…Assumed an interest in someone because of an attribute (race, culture, etc)?
…Assigned a judgmental adjective to them?
…Judged their actions or behavior based on your own (your culture/class/…) values?
…Preferred a candidate with a similar university to you?
…Chosen a colleague to present because they “knew the rules”?
I’m struggling a bit with the first one. My intention was good and, I thought, pure. I am fascinated with countries and cultures, I love to meet people from new places and learn their perspectives.
How could that be excluding someone?
Well, when you wear your origin on your face, or its clearly heard in your accent, that becomes the most important thing about you when you’re different. Most people you meet comment on it. At times, it is meant well, by people who are curious but that well-meaning doesn’t remove the fact that their first assessment of you is your difference. You were hoping to belong, and once again, it was pointed out to you that you don’t. All your other interactions are colored by that initial betrayal, that initial broken hope.
If you’ve made it this far, I know that you care about inclusion. Otherwise, you would have moved on at the first twinge of discomfort, or the first irritation about why can’t we just forget about gender, race, color? Obviously, you care enough to stay through discomfort and you recognize that it’s easy to forget about diversity when you are the majority.
You are still here because you want to make a difference. You want to learn. You want to help. You might be like me, who has some understanding and empathy because a lack of privilege in some arenas (in my case, being female and a foreigner), or you might recognize structural inequalities and want to change the way the game is played.
First, I challenge you to read Inclusion on Purpose. Then message me, email me, or tag me with your thoughts.
Next, if you want to start looking at your own biases and how they play out, go experiment with the Implicit Assessments.
Finally, if you want to better equip yourself to be part of creating a more inclusive, compassionate workforce, book me for a free consultation on how I might be able to help you.