Inclusion is often seen as something that a leader demonstrates or an intervention to be spearheaded and managed by a certain department or a function, that is usually the HR, OD and in some organizations the diversity and inclusion team. But in reality, inclusion cannot be achieved or experienced in isolation- every individual employee should become part of the journey.
For this to happen, the idea of exclusion needs to be put in perspective. Many researches have shown that feeling excluded creates the same pain in the brain that is caused by physical pain. We also need to recognize that feelings of being included or excluded may be experienced on an on-going basis, depending on the interpersonal interactions and situations. For example, a senior leader may feel included when operating in the home country but might feel like a minority when she or he travels to an international location for projects, and therefore excluded in that situation, even if it is for a short period of time.
Therefore, to reduce these feelings of exclusion for oneself and others, certain inclusive habits can be adopted, that will benefit not only the individual adopting it but also the social network.
Why habits? Habits are rituals and behaviors that we perform automatically without giving much thought to them. Charles Duhigg, in his book, The power of Habits shows that our lives and communities can be transformed by understanding how habits work and creating effective new ones. Picking up from there and many other works on habits, we think inclusion can also become a habit over time, if practiced consistently. The habits that we will be discussing in this article are based on what we have seen as successful in creating the right environment to be included as well as to include. Of course, they first need to be established and practiced on a regular basis, until they ultimately reach a point where one is not conscious of doing it.
1) Engage in Community Service or Volunteering: Research has shown that when interacting with ‘out-groups’, a certain Secondary Transfer Effect takes places, which makes one sensitive to more communities. So, if one is working with persons with disabilities, it will tend to make this person more sensitive to the issues of other diverse groups as well. Such as the LGBTQ+ community or the elderly, in this case.
The regularity of this activity can vary weekly to monthly, depending on one’s choice and time availability. However, the sensitivity developed during such activities will eventually lead to making an individual more conscious and sensitive to diverse groups. This can extend to sensitivity towards immediate social groups too.
2) Develop a Growth Mindset: By definition, growth mindset refers to a mindset which reinforces that abilities and intelligence can be developed. For this to happen, one has to constantly challenge one’s thinking patterns and biases about situations and people. One can adopt a growth mindset by becoming more open to the ideas and views of people and team members. Active perspective taking and perspective sharing is one such way. Inclusive meetings to ensure voices are heard – especially those that are opposing to the majority view is one way to go about it. A person with a growth mindset will also recognize that other people can also develop newer abilities, reducing the stereotypes about capabilities depending on gender or disabilities, for example.
3) Pay attention to ‘small’ stuff: Seemingly small things like the way we greet a person when we first meet them in the mornings, during meetings, the number of times that we look at our technology devices to check emails and messages while ignoring the person sitting next to us, and even participating in the personal celebrations of people in our lives, especially in our teams, are all indicators of how inclusive we are as individuals. For example, often during birthday celebrations of the younger members in the team, the senior leaders are missing. This may make the person feel under-valued, making it a behavior to watch out for.
4) Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a form of meditation technique that helps one to be in the present moment completely. Practicing it on a regular basis will eventually lead to one not reacting on auto-pilot mode, which is how most biases get surfaced. Instead, it will help one pay attention and observe the environment with more care, including our behavior and reactions to other people. It will lead to self-awareness, a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, making one more aware of the impact we are having on others.
5) Expand Network: This is to be understood as more than just networking. The network that we are referring to here is one that goes beyond just one’s own immediate area of work, specialization and skills. Some researches have shown that the quality of one’s decisions are based on the number of mental models one has developed, as it helps one see a situation from various dimensions. One way of doing this is of course – to read and educate ourselves. Interacting with a person who practices it can be highly useful too. For example, if one is from a creative field, seek out a person whose work involves data analytics. This will make one appreciate these inherent skills in the team as well.
6) Be Interested: Meet your colleagues outside of work, not just the ones you consider your close friends but the ones with whom you have a more formal relationship. A change in the regular setting paves the way towards getting to know different facets of a person’s personality as well as bringing in a new, and sometimes different context to a conversation. Food, for example, can become a great connector to know about the person’s interests in cuisines, travel etc. Be genuinely interested in people. Of course, it is important to watch out for micro-aggressions or over-stepping the personal boundaries set by a person.
To wrap up, inclusion is not a static concept, it is a rather dynamic one that varies with different situations. Therefore, developing an inclusive mindset is important – to include and to be included. The mindset can be developed through adopting the right habits and behaviors and practicing them until they become a part of the routine.
Are there any other habits you practise that you would like to add to the list? We would love to hear from you.