by Jai Simpson-Joseph | January 27, 2021
“You can mandate diversity, but you can’t mandate inclusion. Inclusion is about behavior, relationships. You have to change hearts and minds.” – Esi Minta-Jacobs
In this final installment of our mini-series breaking down and deconstructing the individual components of DEI (read previous months’ posts about Diversity and Equity here), we turn our focus to inclusion, the third and most elusive component of DEI. Of the three principles, inclusion is perhaps the most difficult to meaningfully and sustainably uphold. However, it is critical to ensuring that organizations are truly supportive of all peoples, especially those who are marginalized.
A working definition of inclusion is that it values the perspectives and contributions of all people and ensures a safe, affirming, respectful, and responsive environment. For those who tend towards the metaphorical, Dr. Johnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College, offers a creative way of understanding inclusion:
Your Dance Card
Diversity is when everyone is invited to the dance.
Equity is when no one gets a special invitation.
Inclusion is when everyone is asked to do their dance.
– Dr. Johnetta B. Cole
The key takeaway from these definitions is that inclusion is not a state that exists naturally, but must be actively created. While a group can be measurably diverse, diversity on its own does not ensure inclusion – inclusion requires an intentional effort to create and protect all identities that may otherwise “attend the dance” but never sway to their own rhythm. In order to leverage diversity, an environment must be created where people feel supported, listened to, and able to do their personal best. Under these conditions, every person’s voice adds value, and no one person can or should be called upon to represent an entire community.
As such, inclusion cannot be achieved through policy changes alone. It requires a comprehensive assessment of how an organization’s culture, practices, relationships, and norms may benefit some but exclude others, and a commitment to changing them so the organization’s environment is conducive to everyone’s full participation. Without this level of intentionality, recruiting people of marginalized identities to an organization just for the sake of diversity can actually cause harm and bring them undue stress (for example, read The Atlantic’s Being Black—but Not Too Black—in the Workplace). Diversity without inclusion equates to putting marginalized people into spaces in which they may not feel safe, respected, supported, or seen.
Thus, a paradigm shift and strategic actions are required to truly accomplish “full” inclusion in any given organization committed to this endeavor. The challenge is to be sure that the words “diversity, equity and inclusion” are put into action and practice, and never rendered meaningless language. While we recognize this process will always be an inherent balance of intentional and organic growth, GVP is committed to staying current on emerging issues and trends on inclusive organizational culture, and we look forward to sharing updates on our ongoing DEI initiatives in coming months.