What Inclusion Is

There I was, sitting in a room listening to people debate about what inclusion is. We had just finished a delicious dinner and were trying to figure out how we could improve retention and lower attrition at the company.

“Inclusion is hard,” one person stated. “Because how do you make sure everyone feels included?”

Some of my dinner mates nodded, but I felt a bit frustrated. I suppose you could take the definition of inclusion and deduce that it means figuring out how to include everyone. That’s a logical connection.

But it’s a logical connection I disagree with. Much like there are nuances and layers to words like racism and privilege, so is the case with the word inclusion.

“I don’t think that’s quite right,” I spoke up. “You can’t include everyone. At some point or another someone is going to feel left out. So we need to consider a new definition of inclusion.”

Some people approach inclusion from a viewpoint of “do x feel included?”, “Are x wanted?”. While I respect and understand that approach, I believe it to be the wrong approach. I firmly believe that it’s impossible for everyone to feel included. That’s because this person might feel included when we do x, while that person might feel included when we do y. Just as there are certain things that I like that you do not, the same is true when talking about inclusion.

Rather than worrying about individuals, it’s easier to think about this from a system level. Inclusion is not about specific individuals, it’s about how people feel within a SYSTEM.

We must understand that people will make mistakes–that’s a fact of life. In fact, someone will unintentionally say something/physically do something to you or me. And that sucks. But we can’t control the actions of others. What we can do is control our own actions.

When thinking about inclusion, it’s easier to tackle through the lens of empowerment and permission. Knowing that it is very possible that you could intentionally/unintentionally be wronged/harmed, do you feel empowered to speak up should that happen?

Do you feel you have permission w/o retribution?

Is there room for conversation and discussion?

Sometimes we collectively talk about inclusion as if it’s the answer to all of the problems, without actually thinking about what that word means or how to implement it.

When thinking about inclusion, it’s easier to tackle through the lens of empowerment + permission. Click To Tweet

Inclusion is about empowerment and permission. Because, quite frankly, the expectation that people will always be perfect and will not do something to cause tension is ridiculous. Inclusion is about proactive engagement with discomfort, rather than a complete wiping out of possible discord. The latter is unrealistic.